The labor force participation rate among men 25 and older, meanwhile, has been in a decline, and stands at 73 percent.
Assuming that the growth of the labor force continues to decline as expected, there are important ramifications for the economy.
For starters, when the labor force grows more slowly, the growth in the number of jobs and the growth of GDP is unlikely to be as robust as it otherwise would be, economists said.
The reason is that in the long run, an economy adds jobs to accommodate the size of its labor force. Eventually, wage levels rise or fall to a level that leads to a “natural” level of unemployment. So the slowing growth in the labor force means that the growth in the number of jobs should slow, too.
“Over decades, what determines job growth are the number of people who want to find a job,” Stock said.
The decline in job growth, in turn, means that the growth of economic output will decline, too — assuming no compensating rise in productivity.
“In the end, what an economy is depends upon how many bodies you have,” said Anthony Carnevale, an economist and director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
Carnevale added that if the diagnosis for what ails the economy is the size and quality of the workforce, that may be good news, at least compared to theory that the biggest problem is foreign competition.
“To the extent this is a domestic demographic problem, it’s more in our control,” he said. “We can’t blame the Chinese for the quality and quantity of our domestic labor force.”