In December 2007, two-thirds (66.0%) of civilians ages 16 and over either were employed or actively looking for work; as of October of this year, only 62.7% were. The labor force participation rate, as it’s called, fell steadily throughout the Great Recession and well into the subsequent recovery. It bottomed out at a seasonally adjusted 62.4% in September 2015 and has risen only slightly since then.
Labor economists generally agree that waves of retiring Baby Boomers explain much, though not all, of the decline. Other possible contributing factors include people spending more years in school, and hence fewer on the job; a decline in demand for less-skilled labor; and what one researcher has called a “flight from work,” especially among men. (An estimated 524,000 jobless Americans last month reported not actively looking for work because they’re discouraged about their employment prospects – more than the 363,000 who reported being discouraged in December 2007, but less than the 1.3 million peak in December 2010.)