According to a Census survey from 2004, with a population of 227 million over the age of 15 in the U.S., almost 79 million of those people (35%) did not work for the prior 4-months.
From the report:
At even the busiest times, a large number of working-age people in the United States do not have or want jobs. Whatever the state of the economy, many people, even those who want to work, have been outside the workforce for long periods of time. Whether their joblessness is brief or extended, nonworkers constitute a large and important pool of human resources. Much research has been devoted to studying the characteristics and behavior of workers. Less is known about nonworkers. This is the second report that uses data from the nationwide Survey of Income and Program Participation SIPP) to fill some of the gaps in this knowledge. It examines several key characteristics of nonworkers, the main reasons they do not work, and some of the connections between their characteristics and their reasons for not working.
Retirement (38 percent) and school attendance (19 percent) were the most commonly reported reasons. Chronic illness or disability was the main reason for almost 1 in 7 nonworkers (15 percent). Taking care of children or others accounted for 13 percent. Around 6 percent cited an economic reason for not working––about 2 percent were on layoff, and 4 percent were unable to find work. Approximately 2 percent reported a temporary injury or illness as the main cause for being out of work. The remaining 7 percent either were not interested in working or reported an “other” reason.
It's clear that the number of people actively looking for work is related to current economic conditions. When times are difficult, many people give up and just stop looking for work and are then no longer counted as "unemployed". Understanding everyone who is not currently in the workforce is a more meaningful undertaking.
The importance of understanding that every single person has creative potential and that ways to tap all that potential will be the true source of competitive advantage is reinforced by this study. As my colleague in Sweden, Charlotta Mellander, points out, the real challenge is making jobs and occupations rewarding enough (and not just with money) so that people choose working over not working.
posted by Kevin Stolarick