• SSTI poll shows overwhelming support for innovation platform

    More than 90 percent of the electorate support expanded efforts to strengthen the key elements of a knowledge-driven economy. Members can sign up for a webinar on how the poll can inform your communications.

  • Become an SSTI Member

    As the most comprehensive resource available for those involved in technology-based economic development, SSTI offers the services that are needed to help build tech-based economies.  Learn more about membership...

  • A directory of responses to the coronavirus pandemic.

    SSTI is cultivating this directory of federal, private and state actions and resources broadly affecting tech-based economic development efforts.

  • Subscribe to the SSTI Weekly Digest

    Each week, the SSTI Weekly Digest delivers the latest breaking news and expert analysis of critical issues affecting the tech-based economic development community. Subscribe today!

Useful stats: Labor force participation and employment by state and metro status, 2013-2017

April 04, 2019
By: Jason Rittenberg

The U.S. unemployment rate is near its 50-year low, but the portion of the population in the labor force is also near a 40-year low. Because business expansion is difficult during periods of extremely low unemployment, a key economic development question is how much the labor force participation rate may increase — bringing more potential employees to the job market and easing the hiring crunch for employers.

An SSTI analysis of American Community Survey (ACS) data from 2013-2017 suggests that there may not be much potential growth for the labor force, at least among those in the prime working ages of 25-54. The participation rate for this group is approximately 82 percent across the country, according to the analysis, and only an additional one percent consider themselves willing to work in the near future (e.g., after a “temporary illness” or have been looking too long to counted as unemployed).

As can be seen in the chart below, employment status and labor force participation varies in many states by whether the adult is located in a metro or non-metro area. In most cases, non-metro areas see lower rates for both metrics (Connecticut is an exception). Arkansas, Kentucky and Virginia had some of the greatest disparities between metro and non-metro areas, and portions of the non-metro areas in these states are covered by special federal agencies focusing on Appalachia and the Delta.


The lower employment rates in many non-metro areas at first seems to indicate that recruiting from these regions is a ready solution for employers looking to grow. However, non-metro areas also have lower labor force participation rates than metro areas. This means that, despite the lower rates of employment, there are no more people in non-metro areas reporting themselves as interested in working.

Like any survey, the ACS can only report what people say in the survey. There is a possibility that people in low employment areas are self-reporting as not interested in work, rather than acknowledging an inability to find work. Whether such a defense mechanism is at work with the ACS labor force data is not clear, but state economic developers and employers may want to hope that this is the case. If working-age Americans continue to stay out of the labor force despite the low unemployment environment, the opportunities for employment-driven growth are not clear.

useful stats, labor forceFile Labor Force Participation by State & Metro.xlsx