Gaps of the Day: Labor force participation


No one measure fully captures true social and economic complexity. It’s true in education, and it’s true in employment. In our unemployment gaps graph, we examined differences between Minnesotans from white, black, and Hispanic backgrounds.

Unemployment, however, is not simply the percentage of people in a group who don’t have a job. It’s the percentage of people who don’t have a job drawn from the pool of people who either have had a job or looked for a job in the last month. The technical term for that pool of people is the labor force.

Different groups can and do have different rates of participation in the labor force. Men and women, for example, historically had very different rates of participation in the labor force until feminists were able to drive a culture change that made it more acceptable for women to work outside the home and in a wider range of jobs. Low labor force participation rates can indicate barriers to economic participation.

So what do labor force participation rates look like in Minnesota? Here they are:

(Data from BLS)

The point of biggest concern here is that black Minnesotans, who already had a much higher unemployment rate than white Minnesotans, also have a lower labor force participation rate. That means that a smaller share of black Minnesotans have been seeking employment than white Minnesotans, and that they’ve had less success finding employment than white Minnesotans.

There are a lot of potential explanations for this, including the effects of institutional racism and the (accurate) perception that the recovery has not been particularly strong for Minnesotans of color. Whatever the underlying factors, it should be distressing that black-white equity gaps exist at two different levels of the employment picture.

The picture is a little less dire for Hispanic-white gaps, as Hispanics’ higher unemployment rate is in part a function of their higher labor force participation rate.

Once again, Minnesota should work for all Minnesotans. We have a growing pile of evidence that suggests Minnesota continues to work better for some than others, and it’s past time to start addressing those issues.