The labor force participation rate — the percentage of Americans age 16 and older who are working or actively looking for work — peaked in early 2000, when it began to drop due to aging baby boomers and more young people in college. Participation was rising before plummeting at the onset of the pandemic.
The rate has only partially recovered due in large part to accelerated retirement among workers age 55 and older. Other reasons include fewer child-care workers, reduced immigration, and many workers unwilling to return to low-paying jobs. Some experts believe it may never return to pre-pandemic levels. The question for the U.S. economy is whether technology and other productivity measures can maintain economic growth with a smaller percentage of the population in the workforce.
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016 & 2022; The Wall Street Journal, October 14, 2021; CNN, December 15, 2021