Raw Data: The Prime-Age Labor Force Participation Rate

Here is the labor force participation rate for prime-age men and women over the past two decades:

In 20 years, the trend participation rate has dropped 4 percentage points for men and 3 percentage points for women. This is only for people aged 25-54, so it’s not about boomers retiring. It’s been dropping steadily, so it’s not about recessions. It’s not about tax cuts or tax increases. The unemployment rate is currently 4.1 percent, so it’s not about a lack of jobs. Nor is this happening in the rest of the world:

Whatever the reason, this decline represents about 4 million people who would be working if participation rates had stayed steady. Why aren’t they? Does it represent the 5 million manufacturing workers who have lost jobs since 1997, some of whom have quit working rather than take other jobs? Is it about China? But if so, why is everyone else immune? Is it the rise of disability—or is that effect rather than cause? Or something else? It is a mystery.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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