Amid a painfully slow job recovery, one of the great mysteries of this recession has been the disappearance of several million workers from the labor force.
The decline in the participation rate — the percentage of the population who say they are part of the workforce — has eclipsed every other recession of the past 50 years. The numbers are staggering. Since the labor force peaked in October, 2008 at 155 million, 2.4 million Americans have dropped out of the labor force. In the prior recession earlier this decade, the labor force dropped by just 600,000. Before the recession, 66 percent of the population said to count them in the labor force. Now, it’s fallen to 64.2 percent.