Mike Maciag is Data Editor for GOVERNING.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Despite adding a mere jobs 115,000 in April, the nation’s unemployment rate further receded to 8.1 percent.
Many states reported similar jobless rate declines in recent months. The improvements haven’t been driven by significant jobs gains, though, as much as steady reductions in the labor force.
The labor force participation rate – the civilian population either employed or looking for work -- has fallen 2.4 percent from the start of the recession to 63.6 percent, the lowest level since 1981.
Governing compiled Labor Department data for all states, showing some have experienced significant shifts during the economic downturn. Participation rates have declined in all states since the recession began in December 2007, with the exception of Virginia.
Many job seekers dropped out of the labor force. This, along with the nation’s aging population of retirees, has pushed down rates in recent years.
“When you’re having big economic swings like this, then some changes you see in labor force participation reflect the state of the economy,” said Barry Hirsch, professor of economics at Georgia State University.
Many of those exiting the labor force opted for retirement. Others put job hunts on hold to go back to school and boost their employment prospects, further curtailing labor force totals.
Hirsch said participation rates for states with high populations of young people and those near retirement typically fluctuate the most. Moreover, certain demographic groups are less attached to the labor market, such as African American males, he said.
Utah’s participation rate has plunged 5.7 percent since the start of the recession – the most of any state.
The decline was mostly influenced by the state’s population of young workers, hit particularly hard by the recession, said Jim Robson, regional economist for the Utah Department of Workforce Services. Utah had a median age of 29.2 years in the 2010 Census, by far the lowest in the country.
“Our demographics have accentuated that decline among young people who have had difficulty getting jobs as a result of the recession and are going to or staying in school,” Robson said.
In 2007, Utah’s annual labor force participation rate was 54.7 percent for those ages 16 to 19. By the end of 2011, that figure had fallen to 42.4 percent.
In many respects, the state’s economy has fared better than others. Utah’s unemployment rate stands at 5.8 percent, well below the national rate.
States with high participation rates before the recession mostly reported stronger job growth than those with historically low rates, according to Hirsch’s analysis of the data.
The following states experienced the largest labor force percentage decreases since the start of the recession:
|State||Current Participation Rate||Change Since 12-2007|
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GOVERNING By the Numbers is dedicated to telling important stories through numbers, with a focus on both our original work in data visualization on GOVERING Data and providing an ongoing tally of editor's picks of new and notable data releases of use to those in government and those who care about it.