By Susan Jones
January 6, 2017
Barack Obama's presidency began with a record number of Americans not in the labor force, and it's ending the same way.
The final jobs report of the Obama presidency, released Friday, shows that the number of Americans not in the labor force has increased by 14,573,000 (18.09 percent) since January 2009, when Obama took office, continuing a long-term trend that began well before Obama was sworn in.
In December, according to the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, a record 95,102,000 Americans were not in the labor force, 47,000 more than in November; and the labor force participation rate was 62.7 percent, a tenth of a point higher than in November.
The participation rate dropped to a 38-year low of 62.4 percent on Obama's watch, in September 2015. It was only 3-tenths of a point higher than that last month.
People over age 16 who are no longer working or even looking for work, for whatever reason (retirement, school, personal preference, or gave up), are counted as not participating in the labor force.
When President Obama took office in January 2009, 80,529,000 Americans were not in the labor force, the highest number on record. That number rose steadily during his two terms, reaching a record 95,055,000 in November 2016, then setting another record (95,102,000) in December.
BLS said the December unemployment rate increased a tenth of a point to 4.7 percent, well below the Obama-era high of 10 percent. Last month, a record 152,111,000 Americans were counted as employed, up 63,000 from November; and the number of unemployed stood at 7,529,000, an increase of 120,000 from the prior month.
But people who stop looking for a job are no longer counted as unemployed.
In an interview with a Chicago reporter yesterday, Obama said he has done "an enormous amount" to create greater economic opportunity for Americans.
"I took an economy that was about to go into a Great Depression, and we've now had a little over six years of straight economic job growth, an unemployment rate that's down below 5 percent, and incomes that have gone up and poverty that has gone down."
Obama also conceded that "there are still folks out there who struggle and communities that are still depressed." He called it an "ongoing battle."
"We have to continue to work to make sure that kids are getting the best education they can, that jobs are being located so that people in need can access them, and that's going to be something that I suspect we'll all be working on, and folks will still be working on after I'm gone."
During Obama’s two terms in office, the number of employed Americans reached its lowest point – 138,013,000 – in December 2009. Eight years later, in December 2017, 14,098,000 Americans have been added to the employment rolls.
The government collects payroll taxes from Americans who work, and some of that money is spent on government programs that support people who do not work. So the more who work, the better for the economy.
In December, the nation’s civilian noninstitutionalized population, consisting of all people age 16 or older who were not in the military or an institution, reached 254,742,000. Of those, 159,640,000 participated in the labor force by either holding a job or actively seeking one.
The 159,640,000 who participated in the labor force equaled 67.3 percent of the 254,742,000 civilian noninstitutionalized population.
According to BLS, total nonfarm payroll employment rose by a lackluster 156,000 in December. Over the past 3 months, job gains have averaged 165,000 per month.
Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (4.4 percent), adult women (4.3 percent), teenagers (14.7 percent), Whites (4.3 percent), Blacks (7.8 percent), Asians (2.6 percent), and Hispanics (5.9 percent) showed little change in December.
The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was essentially unchanged at 1.8 million in December and accounted for 24.2 percent of the unemployed. In 2016, the number of long-term unemployed declined by 263,000.