Graph of the day: Most nonworkers are 55+


In Friday’s graph last week, we saw that roughly a third of adults in the United States are not in the labor force, meaning that they have not sought work in the past month. Conservatives would have you believe these are lazy young people who are choosing not to work so that they can leech from the rest of us. Today’s graph shows this is just not the case.

(Data for October, 2011 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics)

I should clarify that this is not a breakdown of the unemployed. Rather, these “nonworkers” are people who are not in the labor force and who have indicated they do not want a job. This graph excludes those who are not in the labor force but still express interest in a job.

That giant green slice represents those nonworkers who are 55 or older. Call me crazy, but I suspect that many of these folks have put in their time and shouldn’t be resented for their nonworker status.

What about the big slice of people from 25-54 years old? Surely these are the moochers conservatives complain about.

Then again, maybe not. Do you think it’s possible that a significant number of these people might be stay-at-home parents? One quarter of one third of adults does not seem like an unreasonable estimate for the number of stay-at-home parents, and I don’t think conservatives want to be in the position of labeling parents as lazy.

That leaves us with the young people, the 16-24 bracket. Lazy hippies the lot of them, I’m sure.


But the statistics here have merged the 16-19 year old age group back in (a group I left out on Friday as they often have priorities other than work). The number of non-students in this bracket is pretty small, and there are certainly plenty of people in their early twenties who would have legitimate reasons not to seek work (like, say, young stay-at-home parents).

Conservative economic policy is obsessed with the fear that someone somewhere is getting away with something. They will even marshal legions of anecdotes about lazy nonworkers to defend this fear. The numbers, however, tell a different story.