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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.

Go deeper: Surprise labor shortage hits schools

Go deeper

Oct 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden admin releases first national strategy to promote gender equality

President Biden with Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House in August 2021. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Biden administration on Friday released a 42-page plan to promote gender equality at home and abroad — the first national strategy of its kind.

Why it matters: Women in the U.S. and around the world dealt with an unequal playing field before the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated many of the issues they face, potentially reversing years of progress.

"Atmospheric river" to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood

A map depicting 24-hour preciptation forecast (inches) ending Monday at 5a.m. local time. Photo: NOAA

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are set dump historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.

10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves to be removed after fires

A firefighter looks up at a giant sequoia tree after fire burned through the Sequoia National Forest near California Hot Springs, California, on Sept. 23. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

"Upwards of" 10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves have been "weakened by drought, disease, age, and/or fire" and must be removed in the wake of California's wildfires, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks announced.

Why it matters: The damage to these trees, considered "national treasures," and work to remove them means a nearby key highway must remain closed to visitors as they have "the potential to strike people, cars, other structures, or create barriers to emergency response services," per a statement from the national parks.