Note: This commentary has been updated with the latest numbers from the latest Employment Report.


The Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR) is a simple computation: You take the Civilian Labor Force (people age 16 and over employed or seeking employment) and divide it by the Civilian Noninstitutional Population (those 16 and over not in the military and or committed to an institution). The result is the participation rate expressed as a percent.

The first chart below splits up the LFPR since 1948 in two ways: by age and by gender. For the former, have the 25-64 age cohorts to represent what we traditionally think of as the "productive" (pre-retirement age) workforce. The BLS has data for ages 16 and over, but the historical trend toward college attendance has been quite dramatic over this timeframe. So let's use age 25 as the lower boundary to reduce the college-years skew.

Note the squiggly lines for the productive years and jumbled dots for the older cohorts. These result from the use of non-seasonally adjusted data. The BLS does have seasonally adjusted data for many cohorts, but not the older ones, so the chart uses the non-adjusted numbers for consistency.

LFPR Growth