America is employing a decreasing proportion of its people. At the start of the recession, the employment-to-population rate was 62.7 per cent. The rate is now 58.5 per cent. Last month, unemployment fell from 9 per cent to 8.6 per cent. On the surface, this looked like a welcome leap in job creation. In reality, more than half of the fall was accounted for by a decrease in the numbers “actively seeking” work. The 315,000 who dropped out of the labour market far exceeded the 120,000 new jobs. According to government statistics, if the same number of people were seeking work today as in 2007, the jobless rate would be 11 per cent. Some have moved from claiming unemployment benefits to disability benefits, and have thus permanently dropped out of the labour force. Others have fallen back on the charity of relatives. Others still have ended up in prison. In 1982 there were just over 500,000 in jail; today there are 2.5m – more than the combined population of Atlanta, Boston, Seattle and Kansas City.
— Edward Luce, “Can America regain most dynamic labour market mantle?,” Financial Times (Dec. 11, 2011).