The Labor Force


Here’s a time series graph of the Colorado civilian labor force, which includes everyone over 16 not institutionalized or in the service and who is either working at least a few hours or looking for work. If a person is retired, they are not in labor force. Nor is a person who has given up looking for work and no longer bothers to register with the state unemployment office after running out of benefits.

I have added some approximate numbers in the graph to highlight the employment – or rather lack of it – problem. The difference between the upper green line and lower green line is about 100,000 decrease in the number of people counted in the labor force in the last 15 months or so. Despite that decrease, the graph shows an increase of 300,000 in the labor force over the past decade. Until the latter part of 2008, Colorado enjoyed a low unemployment rate, meaning that most of that net 300,000 growth was new jobs being created. So, what’s the problem? New jobs are good, right?

This past week came the announcement that Colorado’s estimated population had crossed the 5 million mark, meaning that, in the past decade, the population has grown by approximately 700,000. Colorado has a relatively younger population. In a healthy economy, the ratio of those in its workforce to those not in the workforce is about 55 to 45, higher than the national average of 51 to 49. As a comparison, Florida has an older population and its ratio has averaged 49 to 51 over the decade.

With the population increase scaled to this ratio and overlayed on the graph (blue line), we can see that the growth in the labor force matched the growth in the population until the past year or so. With an total estimated population of 5 million, a healthier labor force would total about 2.75 million. We are about 80,000 short.

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