Bye-Bye: U.S. Job Seekers Giving Up, Leaving the Workforce


More Americans are kissing the workforce goodbye – not because they’re financially secure but because they can’t find a job. A record 95 million people are sitting on the sidelines opting not to work. As a result, the labor participation rate is stuck at 62.7%, a 40-year low.

“There are a certain percentage of people staying home,” said Dan North, economist at Euler Hermes, during an interview with “If benefits are great in some states, people will just stay home,” he noted. Those benefits may include welfare, food stamps and Medicare.

“It’s not that people are lazy, they are just not stupid,” Michael Tanner, senior fellow at the Cato Institute, which advocates limited government, tells Tanner, who studies poverty issues, also notes the federal welfare system is very complex and has around 70 programs, making it more complicated to fix. States with generous freebies include Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and California.

Additionally, the number of part-time workers was little changed last month at 5.7 million and has tumbled by 416,000 so far this year. The U.S. Department of Labor gave this sober assessment of the situation: “These individuals, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job.”

North points out employers, whether they are seeking high-skilled or blue collar workers, are feeling the sting as well. “People can’t find jobs and employers can’t find people with the right skill set,” he said.

As more job seekers throw in the towel, the unemployment rate fell to 4.6% from 4.9% in November. On the surface, a lower rate looks positive, but it may be masking problems in the economy.

That said, there is modest job growth, perhaps enough for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates later this month. Employers added 178,000 workers, led by healthcare, construction and professional services.

Steve Mnuchin, President-elect Trump’s pick for U.S. Treasury Secretary, is aiming to boost U.S. economic growth to 3-4%. The November jobs data proves that the new administration may have their work cut out for them.

Suzanne O’Halloran is Managing Editor of and a graduate of Boston College. Follow her on @suzohalloran.