Media outlets, including the Houston Chronicle as well as business groups and politicians like Representative Tony Gonzales (D-Texas) all agree with the Dallas Morning News that the state’s low unemployment means “Texas needs to advocate for more foreign workers.” But this ignores the massive decline in labor force participation — the share of working-age people working or at least looking for work. Those not in the labor force do not show up as unemployed because they are not actively looking for work.
Nationally, 44 million U.S.-born working-age (16 to 64) men and women are not in the labor force — almost 10 million more than in 2000. In Texas, the number increased from 2.5 million in 2000 to 3.8 million in 2023. Again, this does not even include the officially unemployed. The falloff in labor force participation is contributing to profound social problems such as crime, drug addiction, social isolation, and depression.
Most of those not in the labor force lack a bachelor’s degree. In Texas, the labor force participation rate for these less-educated U.S.-born men (16 to 64) declined dramatically from 88 percent in 1960, to 80 percent in 2000, to 75 percent in 2019 (before Covid), to 73 percent in April of 2023. Focusing only on men of “prime-age” (25 to 54), who traditionally have the highest rates of work, still shows a decline for the non-college U.S.-born from 96 percent in 1960 to just 87 percent this year.
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