10 Million Leave U.S. Labor Force Since April 2007

by: Daryl Montgomery

The BLS released its employment situation numbers for April 2012 this morning. The report showed that 115,000 jobs were created last month and the current unemployment rate is 8.1%. The big story however was the incredible number of people leaving the U.S. labor force - almost 10 million in the last five years.

Looking at any of the macro numbers since the Great Recession began in December 2007 indicates that the employment situation in the United States is severely challenged. People are leaving the labor force in droves. The participation rate continues to fall as well. This does not happen during economic recoveries. It happens during recessions and depressions. Not only have these numbers trended in the wrong direction since the "recovery" supposedly began in mid-2009, but there has been an acceleration.

These trends are hidden because large numbers of people enter the labor force because of school graduation and immigration. When balanced against the number of people retiring, the U.S. needs to create approximately 150,000 new jobs every month to keep the employment situation steady. It has rarely met or exceeded this number in the last four years, yet the unemployment rate reported by the BLS has declined significantly. This can only happen because large numbers of people have left the labor force (a sign of economic stress). People are not counted as unemployed when this occurs.

According to Table A of the BLS employment reports, there were 78,711,000 Americans not in the labor force in April 2007. In April 2008, four months after the Great Recession began, this number had risen to 79,241,000. In April 2009 just before the supposed recovery started, 80,554,000 Americans were not in the labor force. This loss of less than two million during a recession isn't surprising. What is surprising is what happened during the recovery.

After almost a year of recovery, the number of people not in the labor force grew to 82,614,000. This was an increase of more than two million, a number greater than the loss during the previous two years that included the recession. Then in April 2011 after another year of recovery, 85,726,000 Americans were not in the U.S. labor force - an increase of over three million in only one year. Now in April 2012, 88,419,000 people were not in the labor force. This was an increase of almost three million in one year.

In the five years since April 2007, 9,708,000 Americans have left the U.S. labor force. During this period the labor force should have grown approximately 9,000,000 (60 times 150,000). The picture these numbers present are one of an economy in severe decline. Don't expect to hear this from the U.S. government however. Politicians don't get reelected by reporting bad news.

This posting is editorial opinion. There is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.