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GCO analysis: Nearly half a million Georgians have given up on work

PEACHTREE CORNERS—A new analysis from the Georgia Center for Opportunity shows that around 454,100 Georgians are missing from the labor force. This figure comes even as pundits celebrate a statewide and national unemployment rate that remains at historic lows.


The 454,100 figure developed by the GCO team does not include those unable to work, those who were retired, those in school or college full-time, and full-time caregivers for minor children in the home. In other words, that nearly half-million figure is people who are able to work but have simply decided to detach from the labor force altogether, for some other reason.


“The startling statistic shows a hidden story behind the unemployment rate that reveals deeper cracks in the labor market that will cause problems for years to come, both in the economy and in individuals’ lives,” said GCO director of research Erik Randolph. “The reason why this matters is not strictly an economic one — we know that these individuals’ giving up on work has profound social, psychological, and relational impacts that extend well beyond the pocketbook.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Nov. 4 that the unemployment rate rose to 3.7%, which is a tick higher than the previous low of 3.5% but still at historic lows. Georgia’s unemployment rate stands at 2.7%, 14th best in the nation.


The troubling trend is in the labor force participation rate, however. This rate is a better barometer of the labor market than the unemployment rate because it includes workers who have simply given up looking for work and are sitting on the sidelines of the labor market altogether. The U.S. labor force participation rate was at 62.2% in October, down from a pre-pandemic rate of 63.4% in February 2020.


GCO research has found that when individuals are separated from work, they lose more than just monetary compensation or the food, shelter, clothing, and other basics that money can buy. They also face a loss of social connection, meaningful activity, self-respect, and overall purpose.


Randolph developed the figure using microdata accessed through the IPUMS-USA at the University of Minnesota. The tabulations come directly from the survey the federal government uses to calculate unemployment numbers. It counts those who are not in the labor force and are not retired, are not unable to work due to disability or sickness, are not in school or college full time, and who don’t have a child under 18 years of age while living with a married or unmarried partner.


Randolph also found that 208,600 Georgians fall under the official definition of “unemployed” and an additional 147,900 Georgians are currently working part-time but in search of full-time work. 

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