Why Did the Labor Force Shrink So Much in August?


From the LA Times today:

The Labor Department said the jobless rate dropped over the month, to 8.1% from 8.3% in July, but that came as many people dropped out of the labor market. In a nation where the population is growing, a shrinking labor force suggests that many workers are giving up job searches because they are striking out in the employment market or don’t see good prospects.

That’s what you’d think, all right. And yet, although the number of people not in the labor force shot up by about half a million in August, the number of “discouraged workers” didn’t budge. So what caused the labor force shrinkage?

Beats me. But BLS data does suggest one thing: the shrinkage came almost entirely among those with a high school diploma or less. Among that group, the labor force shrank by 637,000. Among those with bachelor’s degrees, the labor force grew by 707,000. This is for workers 25 and older, so it has nothing to do with an influx of college students graduating this summer (and I’m using seasonally adjusted figures anyway).

I’m not sure what this means. Maybe it’s just noise. Or maybe I’m not reading the data carefully enough — an occupational hazard among us amateurs. Still, something seems a little off here. Why did so many high school grads (and dropouts) leave the labor force?

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.