[Marxism] US workforce query
andromeda246 at hetnet.nl
Tue Nov 30 05:59:55 MST 2004
The economically active ("usually active") population (normally, those in
the non-institutionalised civilian population aged 16+) includes both the
employed and unemployed labor force, plus those currently not in the labor
Included in "Not in the labor force" are all persons in the civilian
noninstitutional population (which excludes military personnel, prisoners,
and institutionalised patients) who are neither employed nor unemployed.
Information is collected on their desire for and availability to take a job
at the time of the Current Population Survey interview, jobsearch activity
in the prior year, and reason for not looking for work in the 4-week period
ending with the reference week.
Persons not in the labor force who want and are available for a job and who
have looked for work sometime in the past 12 months (or since the end of
their last job if they held one within the past 12 months), but who are not
currently looking, are designated as "marginally attached to the labor
The marginally attached are divided into those not currently looking because
they believe their search would be futile-so-called discouraged workers-and
those not currently looking for other reasons such as family
responsibilities, ill health, or lack of transportation.
For discouraged workers, the reasons for not currently looking for work are
that the individual believes that: "No work is available in his or her line
of work or area; he or she could not find any work; he or she lacks
necessary schooling, training, skills, or experience; employers would think
he or she is too young or too old; or he or she would encounter hiring
You are correct, there have been important revisions in BLS series. However,
the reference period for the percentage changes which I calculated was
1997-2003, which is after the main revisions were implemented, and I took
the data from the historical series. Admittedly this does not remove all
comparability problems. On these issues, see
But it is undeniable whichever way you look at it that the number of those
"not in the labour force" has increased much faster, close to twice as fast,
as the total number of persons employed. I think this reflects the
increasing marginalisation of a fraction of the labor force, which cannot be
explained simply in terms of changes in demographic structure.
Actually, a surprising number of Americans engage in paid work also after
they turn 65.
One might ask, what is the utility of these statistics? For our purposes, I
think they help put into proportion the aggregate empirical trends, and that
helps to discipline our theorizing about what is really happening to the
workforce overall. It helps to get rid of a few myths about what the working
classes really consist of.
Of course, this BLS data has multiple uses - it is also used to support
policy analysis and marketing analysis. Sometimes it is necessary to
reaggregate the data in more meaningful categories, to find out what is
going on, as I have attempted to do on previous occasions in studying the
division of labor and social classes in the USA.
More information about the Marxism