56,023,000: Record Number of Women Not in Labor Force

By Ali Meyer

( – A record 56,023,000 women, age 16 years and over, were not in the labor force in February.

Not only was that a record high, but it’s also the first time the number has exceeded 56 million, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

To be counted as ‘not in the labor force,’ according to the BLS, one must not have a job or have looked for one in the past four weeks. In January 2015, there were 55,756,000 women not in the labor force, which means that 267,000 women dropped out of the labor force since then.

The labor force participation rate, which is the percentage of those who are participating in the labor force by either having a job or looking for one in the past four weeks, declined in February.

According to the BLS, 56.7 percent of women were participating in the labor force in February, a drop from 56.8 percent in January. In the last year, since February 2014, the labor force participation rate for women has fluctuated within a range of 56.6 percent to 57.2 percent, and February’s percentage of 56.7 falls on the low end of that scale.

The BLS labor force numbers begin with the nation’s civilian noninstitutional population, which consists of all people 16 years or older who were not in the military or an institution. For women, that number was 129,252,000. Of those people, there were 73,230,000 women in the labor force, meaning they participated by either having a job or looking for one. This brings the participation rate to 56.7 percent.

Of those 73,230,000 women participating in the labor force, 69,291,000 had a job in February, and 3,939,000 did not – making them the nation’s unemployed.

The 3,939,000 job seekers were 5.4 percent of the 73,230,000 women actively participating in the labor force bringing the unemployment rate to 5.4 percent.

While the number of unemployed women decreased over the month from 4,076,000 in January to 3,939,000 in February, the number of employed women also decreased from 69,332,000 in January to 69,291,000 in February.

The unemployment rate for women decreased from 5.6 percent in January to 5.4 percent in February.

One reason for the decline in participation rate is the aging of the baby-boom generation, explains BLS.

“With the passage of every year after 2000, a segment of the baby-boomer population passes into the 55- years-and-older age group and thus moves from a group with a high participation rate in the labor force to an age category with a much lower participation rate, causing the overall participation rate to decrease,” states BLS.

“The baby boomers’ exit from the prime-aged workforce (with the highest participation rates) into the 55-years-and older age groups (with much lower participation rates) will ultimately lower the overall labor force participation rate, leading to a slowdown in the growth of the labor force,” states BLS.

56,023,000: Record Number of Women Not in Labor Force