Public Policy Brief Highlights No. 54A | July 1999
Down and Out in the United States
An Inside Look at the Out of the Labor Force Population
Despite a long period of strong economic growth, more than 28 million working-age persons were categorized by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as out of the labor force in 1998. A small portion of this population will move into the labor force, but the majority will remain without work. This brief examines the demographics of the out-of-the-labor-force population, their reasons for not working, the likelihood that they will move into the labor force, and the adverse effects on them of prolonged joblessness. Current labor market policies, and especially welfare reform measures, have proved ineffective for the "hard-core" jobless because the policies are predicated on the mistaken notion that the private labor market is dynamic and flexible enough to accommodate anyone who wants to work. A public employment program would complement the operation of the private market, providing those who are able and willing with income, a sense of worth, the opportunity to make a social and economic contribution, and preparation for entry into the labor force.