Nearly half a million Georgians have given up on work
- Around 454,100 Georgians are missing from the labor force.
- The labor force participation 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.
- We need to answer, how to reintegrate these prime-age, work-capable workers back into the labor force?
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 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. 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.
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.
Here’s a quick deep dive into the numbers. 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.
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Those detached from work
It’s important to note that 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.
As for reasons why workers have quit, they are widespread and complex. The better question is how to reintegrate these prime-age, work-capable workers back into the labor force. That is a primary goal of the Georgia Center for Opportunity’s BETTER WORK initiative, currently operating in Gwinnett County and the Columbus areas of Georgia but soon to expand into many additional regions across the state.
We see success stories like that of Eddie, who spent nearly five years on the street, homeless and working odd jobs, before getting connected with BETTER WORK Columbus and partner organizations to find stable housing, food security, and a long-term job. The goal of such programs is to get people into stable, self-supporting work so they can escape poverty and dependency cycles.
The GCO team also works to educate policymakers on the perils of benefits cliffs that keep people trapped in cycles of dependency and prevent them from moving up the economic ladder. People like Frankie, a single mom who turned down a $70,000-a-year job because it would mean losing essential government benefits that she relied on to support her family. The goal here is for policymakers to make wise decisions about the safety net so that we don’t continue to pour funds into a failing system.