Americans are participating in the workforce at the lowest level in 35 years, according to government data released Friday, as lackluster job growth fails to offset the droves of people who have given up looking for work.RELATED: Is pornography killing the economy?
According to the Labor Department, the economy added a disappointing 169,000 jobs in August. In addition, the government lowered its estimate of the number of jobs created in June and July by 74,000 positions.
The grinding pace of recovery has hollowed out the workforce. Government data showed that only 63.2 percent of working-age Americans have a job or are looking for one, the lowest proportion since 1978.
Nearly 90 million people are now considered out of the labor force, up 1.7 million from August 2012.
“We just don’t see this consistent, strong job market that’s really going to entice people to go back into it,” said Michael Evangelist, policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project. “You don’t want people falling out of the labor force where they’re not able to contribute and not able to find work.”
Carol Petty, 54, is among those hanging in the balance. She lost her job as a paralegal in Nevada last summer and has struggled to find work since. Petty moved to California to be near her family and hoped she would find a better job market. She sends out as many as 10 résumés a week and knows she is unlikely to find another position that pays her old salary of $55,100 a year.
She said others in her position have given up seeking work. The question for Petty — and the broader economy — is how long people like her will be able to hold on.
“I’m just so stubborn,” she said. “I will do anything.”
There are demographic trends underlying the decline in the labor force. For much of the past generation, growing numbers of working women boosted its size, but that effect has leveled off. Meanwhile, the first wave of baby boomers is reaching retirement age, while younger workers are staying in school longer before looking for their first job.