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Winter 2013-14
Vol. 57, Number 4
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Labor force

The labor force is the number of people ages 16 or older who are either working or looking for work. It does not include active-duty military personnel or the institutionalized population, such as prison inmates. Increases or decreases in the size of the labor force can significantly affect the growth of the economy.

The size of the labor force depends on two factors. The first is the size of the population, which is determined by rates of birth, immigration, and death. The second is the labor force participation rate—the percentage of the civilian noninstitutional population ages 16 and older that is working or actively seeking work.

Labor force participation rates vary significantly between men and women and among different age, racial, and ethnic groups. Population growth rates also vary from one group to another. These variations change the composition of the labor force over time.

The charts that follow show how the labor force is projected to change between men and women and among age groups, racial groups (Asians, Blacks, Whites, and others), and ethnic groups (Hispanics and non-Hispanics of any race). BLS bases its labor force projections on U.S. Census Bureau population projections.

Total labor force growth is expected to be about 0.5 percent annually between 2012 and 2022. This average growth rate is shown as a dotted vertical line in this chart.

As in previous years, the labor force is projected to grow more slowly than the number of jobs, but this does not indicate a labor shortage. Instead, this discrepancy reflects that these two measures are based on different concepts.

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U.S. Department of Labor
Bureau of Labor Statistics

Last Updated: December 11, 2013