Oct 11, 2021 - Economy

More women and older workers gave up on looking for jobs last month

Data: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Axios Visuals

The silver lining in Friday’s mediocre jobs report was this milestone: The unemployment rate dropped below 5% for the first time since the pandemic sent workers home in droves.

Yes, but: Part of what pushed it down was shrinking labor force participation.

By the numbers: The labor force, which includes anyone who either has a job or is actively looking for one, ticked down by 183,000 in September (those who have stopped looking for jobs are not counted in the labor force — or in the unemployment rate).

  • The labor force participation rate has stubbornly stuck in the 61.5% area since June 2020, a recovery of less than half its pandemic drop.

Why it matters: September's decline signals that some people are giving up on finding jobs (at least for now), at a time when there are still 5 million fewer people working than there were in February 2020.

Two reasons: Women and recent retirees.

  • The participation rate for women, often primary caregivers for kids or elderly family members, slipped again in September, to 57.1% (the rate for men went up, to 70%).
  • And more — mostly affluent — people near retirement age are calling it quits early, surveys and data show. One driver is simply that they can afford it, thanks to significant growth in asset values like stocks and real estate over the last year and a half, Tony Roth, CIO at Wilmington Trust, tells Axios.

The bottom line: The irony, of course, is that the Federal Reserve has been waiting for more job growth before pulling back on its emergency market support — but that support may be contributing to the lack of job growth among workers close to retirement age, Roth adds.

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