People who are neither working nor looking for work are counted as “not in the labor force,” according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since 2000, the percentage of people in this group has increased. Data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) and its Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) provide some insight into why people are not in the labor force. The ASEC is conducted in the months of February through April and includes questions about work and other activities in the previous calendar year. For example, data collected in 2015 are for the 2014 calendar year, and data collected in 2005 are for the 2004 calendar year. In the ASEC, people who did not work at all in the previous year are asked to give the main reason they did not work. Interviewers categorize survey participants’ verbatim responses into the following categories: ill health or disabled; retired; home responsibilities; going to school; could not find work; and other reasons.
This Beyond the Numbers article examines data on those who were not in the labor force during 2004 and 2014 and the reasons they gave for not working. The data are limited to people who neither worked nor looked for work during the previous year.