ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The labor force participation rate, a measure of the size of the work force relative to population, has been on a sharp decline nationally in recent years, hitting lows not seen since the 1970s, according to a news release from Oklahoma City-based Express Employment Professionals.
The December rate of 62.7 percent nationwide is down from a high of 67.3 percent reached during the first four months of 2000 and is roughly where it was in late 1977 and early 1978, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The late 70s were years sandwiched between the national economic recessions of 1973-75 and 1980.
Among states as of December, the labor force participation rate ranged from a high of 71.6 percent in North Dakota to a low of 52.8 percent in West Virginia. New Mexico had the fifth lowest rate of 57.9 percent.
“It’s stunning to think there are states where almost half of the people aren’t in the work force,” said Bob Funk, CEO of Express and a former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, in a prepared statement. “On the other hand, you have states where almost three-quarters are in the labor force.”
“Low rates mean people have lost hope and given up looking for work,” Funk said. “That’s not good for the economy and it’s not good for our country. Policy makers need to take the drop in the LFPR more seriously — it’s a national problem.”