The White House claim that 1 in 4 Americans in prime working age aren’t employed

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This is a great example of where the numbers add up but do not mean much, especially in the immigration debate. (Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)

“The number of people living in the United States in the working ages who aren’t working today is at a record high. One in four Americans — or almost one in four Americans between the ages of 25 and 54 aren’t even employed.”
— Stephen Miller, senior policy adviser, White House briefing, Aug. 2, 2017

A reader asked about this statement by Miller, made while touting a plan to reduce legal immigration. Are 1 in 4 Americans of prime working age not even employed?

This is a great example of a fact devoid of context or meaning. Let’s explain.

The Facts

The data indeed shows almost 1 in 4 Americans in prime working age are not employed, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most (89 percent) of these people do not want jobs in the first place. Most, in fact, are women taking care of loved ones. If you go back to the mid-1970s (or earlier), the figures were even worse because more women were not in the workforce.

Here’s the data for women not participating in the workforce. As you can see, it has gone from 42 percent in 1977 to about 25 percent as women have begun working outside the home in large numbers.

Finally, here’s the data for men not participating. Since the 1980s, the percent of working-age men not participating in the workforce has climbed from about 6 percent to 11 percent. Some of this is a consequence of women moving into the workforce (stay-at-home dads) but a sharp jump occurred after the Great Recession. That has indeed been of concern to economists — who have identified factors such as high incarceration rates, increasing disability claims and the allure of video games. But Miller chose to go for the flashier statistic.

The Senate Budget Committee, where Miller used to work, frequently touted this 1-in-4 figure, but as the economy has improved, so have the numbers. Miller was careful to say “almost one in four” but that belies the fact that the participation rate is headed back to pre-Great Recession rates.


I often warn readers to be wary of figures offered out of context. Miller can point to BLS data, but that does not mean his startling figure is actually significant to the debate over immigration. Most of the people who he says are not “employed” have no interest in being in the workforce in the first place. President Trump once took this notion to an absurd conclusion by citing 92 million “jobless Americans.” Miller does not go that far (after all, nobody can beat Trump’s level of nonsense), but it’s still a nonsense factoid… merely a LIE!

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Julio Marchi ©

Publisher / Editor at BS News & Media Services
A free thinker, not labelled as anything, not associated with any party, not part of any group or engaged with any religion... A simple guy tired of the nowadays bullshit who decided to promote more serious debates about what is really happening hoping to bring back intelligence to the superficial and shallow news & headlines that unfortunately took over the existing media scene.
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