Growth of U.S. Population and Workforce Disappeared under Obama

January 10, 2017

American population growth has collapsed under the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. U.S. Census figures show that from 1900-2000, the population rose from 76.1 million to 282.2 million, an average annual growth rate of 1.3%. During the 12 boom years after WW2, from 1945-1957, and in the 13 years before World War I, growth was significantly higher. During the eight Clinton years, population growth followed the long-term average, 1.3% annually.

But during Bush and Obama's 16 years, more than one-third of that growth disappeared. The U.S. population 2000-2016 has only risen from 282.2 to 322.7 million, an annual average growth rate of 0.84%. The only comparable period in the last 115 years is the period from 1929-1945, encompassing both the Great Depression and World War II. Then the annual population growth rate was 0.88%. In Bush and Obama's America, it has fallen below Depression and world war.

Growth in the workforce suffered a related collapse. During the Bush-to-Obama decade from December 2006 to December 2016, including the 2008 financial crash and so-called Obama recovery, what is called the "civilian non-institutionalized population" — that is, the part of the over-16 population from which the labor force can be drawn — grew by 24.6 million people, from 230.1 million to 254.7 million. But the labor force itself (people either working part- or full-time or unemployed but actively seeking work — grew during that decade by just 6.3 million, from 152.6 million to 158.9 million. So, in net effect, three-quarters of all those who became eligible to enter the labor force during that decade, did not do so, or entered and then dropped out again and stayed out.

In the decade 2000-2010, that "labor force abstention" rate was 70%; and it stood out like a very sore thumb from the two previous decades, when it had been approximately 38% (1980s) and 26% (1990s). But the decade since December 2006 has been even worse, with about 75% of those newly eligible, winding up out of the workforce.

This dramatic "flip" in the Bush and Obama presidencies — from previously 60-70% of newly eligibles entering the workforce and staying in, to 70-75% staying out — is, itself, sufficient demonstration that the cause was not "demographic"; it was collapse of the underlying real economy, disappearance particularly of well-paid productive employment, and a resulting "culture" of hopelessness among the American people.