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Who Is Returning To The Workforce?

NC State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences professor Dr. Mike Walden working in a recording studio.


“Today’s program asks, ‘Who is returning to the work force?’ Mike, one of the good news items in the economy recently has been the rise in the labor force participation rate. This rate measures the share of working age individuals who either have a job or are looking for a job. Do we know who is responsible for the improvement in the labor force participation rate?”


“We do. If we look at the data, and the simple answer is women. Women are coming back into the workforce. Many women left the workforce during the Great Recession. Studies show that women tend to be more sensitive to the wage they’re paid in their job. So when wages went down, after you adjust for inflation, during the Great Recession many women left, but now that wages are beginning to inch up a little bit we’re seeing women come back into the labor force. Particularly in areas like education, healthcare and the leisure and hospitality fields.”

“So we thank women for bringing up that labor force participation rate. Now this does however highlight a problem we do have for men, particularly for unskilled men. They are largely not coming back into the labor force. We have a large number of men, it’s estimated that about five million who are able bodied and of working age who are simply not looking for a job and do not have a job.”

“This is probably due to the changes and shifts in the economy, the relative decline of manufacturing jobs for example. So that is one of the issues I think that we’re facing long term, particularly for men, bringing many of those men, young men, back who have not gone to school, have not gone to college, technical college, four-year college. They don’t really find there’s a lot of demand for them. Being able to access them, get them trained and bring them back into the labor force.”

Walden is a William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor and Extension Economist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at North Carolina State University who teaches and writes on personal finance, economic outlook, and public policy.