According to today's Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the U.S. economy added just 88,000 jobs in March, well below analysts' expectations and a major deceleration from the 268,000 jobs added in February. And while the official unemployment rate ticked down a tenth of a point to 7.6 percent, the drop was almost entirely attributable to the 496,000 Americans who left the labor force last month, bringing the share of the population working or looking for work to 63.3 percent, the lowest level in decades.
Although structural changes like the retirement of the baby boomers account for about a third of the decline in the labor force participation rate, most people who left the workforce did so because they could not find a suitable job. In fact, for every American who found a new private sector job since 2011, another stopped looking for work entirely. So while the economy expanded by about 5.2 million jobs in the last two years (not counting the 400,000 public sector jobs that have been eliminated due to government cutbacks), some 4.7 million people left the labor force, joining the large and growing ranks of Americans who have no job but are not counted among the unemployed.
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