[Marxism] US workforce query

Jurriaan Bendien andromeda246 at hetnet.nl
Tue Nov 30 05:59:55 MST 2004

Hi Rod,

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 
http://www.bls.gov/cps/eetech_methods.pdf .

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.



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