If you’re at work right now, surrounded by coworkers, having just traveled on a road crowded with other people on their way to work, you may be surprised to learn that you’re among less than 60% of Americans who actually have a job.


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While our national unemployment rate remains at just 5.1%, that number refers only to individuals who are actively seeking employment.

That still leaves us with millions of people who aren’t working and aren’t currently interested in doing so. Why is such a substantial part of the population not playing an active role in America’s workforce and how will it affect our future?

Reasons Behind A Shrinking Workforce
As you’re likely aware, since it could be very well affecting your company, Baby Boomers are retiring more and more every year. As this generation leaves the workforce, all types of industries must face the challenge of filling these roles with new, qualified workers.

It’s a substantial challenge too, as fewer younger people are are entering the workforce to fill the roles of retiring professionals. A new population of retirees is a factor, but it’s not the key reason behind America’s shrinking workforce.

Playing It Safe In School?
In fact, older Americans are now working later in life than in pre-recession years, while more young people are delaying the starts of their careers by staying in school for longer than previous trends have shown. In 2000, nearly 60% of young adults (individuals between 16 to 24 years of age) were employed, while less than 30% were students.

Fifteen years later, just over 45% of young adults are now employed and nearly 40% have stayed in the academic world. Late in 2014, Labor Statistics data analysis from the Pew Research Center showed that 34.6% of Americans aged sixteen and older were neither employed nor actively seeking a job.

A Long Term Skills Investment?
As Boomers retire and Millennials put off their job search in favor of an extended education, it could mean tougher times for those industries that are really feeling the impact of the skills gap.

Credit: Paul Rivenberg and Mary Pat McNally, MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center

However, as this latest generation continues their education and chooses their careers based on the realities of the post-recession labor market, it could mean greater American prosperity and a stronger national workforce down the road—and one that’s seriously competitive on a global scale. For now, however, the U.S. may have to wait and work with who it’s got.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the U.S. workforce? Are you facing the challenge  of finding new workers? Do you think young adults are doing the right thing by staying in school? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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