October 26, 2020

“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” 
-Mother Teresa

Our team believes that full-time jobs with benefits change lives, that the financial benefits of working are only one of the many positives that an individual and society derive from employment, and that we not only need more jobs, but more equitable access to them.

The pandemic has stolen much from us, including the ability to return to the workplace for many people. While some can work from home, others work in jobs that require them to be physically present. For workers with compromised immune systems, or those with vulnerable people within their care, it is difficult to return to these jobs. Additionally, working parents continue to struggle to work and provide support for their children as schools and daycare schedules are up in the air. Great jobs are available and it is hard to fill them because of these realities. It is frustrating for companies seeking talented people and for hard working people unable to return to work.

The U.S. workforce has been the most productive in the world by many measures because of the relatively high participation rates of its population. We have hovered close to full employment (4-5% unemployment) and rates of approximately 65% for decades. Because of COVID-19, labor participation rates have plummeted and are rising very tenuously. They are far from normal, and that is not good. Perhaps a definition is appropriate: Labor force participation rate is defined as the section of working population in the age group of 16-64 in the economy currently employed or seeking employment.

One way we will know that our economy, and our society, are functioning properly again is when rates return to nearly 65%. To take it further, if we are opening up opportunities to all, our participation rates could push closer to 70% (or higher). The higher the rate, the more lives that will be positively changed, the more productive our economy will be, and the healthier our communities will be.

Labor participation matters A LOT and it should be a metric for economic development organizations, governments, and the private sector.


-Kenny McDonald