The labor market is shaped by many factors ranging from technological advancements to demographic shifts. The work landscape is constantly evolving, and understanding the current trends is necessary.
Here, we will delve into the 2024 labor outlook and provide insights into workforce participation.
Labor Participation Rate
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the workforce is expected to drop from 62.2 percent in 2022 to 60.4 percent by 2032.¹ This decline is mainly due to an aging workforce of 65 and above. As older individuals tend to retire, leading to a smaller share of the population actively participating in the workforce, this presents the challenge of discerning between voluntary and involuntary exits from the labor force and implementing strategies that encourage active participation.
Demographic Shifts and Active Labor Participation
Even before the calendar flipped to 2024, projections by Deloitte suggested the future US workforce would be older, with increased labor force participation among older generations and a decline among young professionals. According to the report, the largest labor market share is held by Millennials, with Generation Z also entering the workforce.² The pandemic-induced disruptions triggered unprecedented shifts in work, with remote and flexible arrangements becoming more prevalent.
The workforce is also becoming more diverse, influenced by changing immigration patterns and more women entering the labor force. This trend started in the 1960s and is expected to continue, resulting in a diverse workforce regardless of gender, ethnicity, culture, religion, sexual preference, and identification.
Women’s share in the workforce is expected to rise from 46.8 percent in 2014 to 47.2 percent in 2024.² The labor force participation rate for women aged 25 to 54 is projected to increase, while the rate for men in the same group is expected to decline. By 2024, less than 60 percent of the labor force will likely be “white non-Hispanic,” a significant shift from 1994 when over three-quarters of the labor force fell into this category.
The proportions of Hispanics, African Americans, and Asians in the labor force are all projected to rise. This increasing diversity in the workforce will create more dynamic and inclusive workplaces.
There’s a clear trend of increasing educational attainment across successive generations. Younger people are more likely to complete high school and pursue higher education. Additionally, mid-career professionals and older individuals are also seeking further education. The proportion of workers with at least a bachelor’s degree has grown significantly, from one-quarter to two-fifths of the labor force in less than 25 years.²
By 2025, it’s forecasted that almost two-thirds of the labor force will have some form of education beyond high school, a notable increase from less than 50 percent in 2005. This trend is not just among younger generations but extends to older age groups, indicating a shift towards continuous learning throughout one’s career.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a total employment growth of nearly 4.7 million jobs from 2022 to 2032, largely driven by the healthcare and social assistance sector.³ Jobs in healthcare support are set to grow the fastest, at 15.4 percent from 2022 to 2032.¹ Among these, home health and personal care aides will see the biggest jump in new jobs, with an estimated 804,600 positions. This occupation is expected to make up around one-sixth of all new jobs and become the largest occupation in the economy by 2032. The increase is driven by a growing elderly population with higher healthcare needs, leading to a higher demand for caregiving and therapy services.
The labor force is also experiencing a polarization between high-paying, skill-intensive professional roles and low-paying, less skill-intensive jobs as skill requirements for various occupations grow.²
For instance, blue-collar jobs are now requiring more computer and mathematical skills. As more traditionally considered “low-skilled” jobs look for highly educated workforce with quantitative skills in the market, employees will increasingly polarize between the two extremes. This leaves middle-skilled, moderate-pay jobs like traditional blue-collar and administrative occupations to grow more slowly.
Automation and Technological Change
Automation technologies are reshaping the US labor market. A study by McKinsey revealed that while less than 5 percent of occupations are fully automatable, significant portions of activities within 60 percent of jobs could be automated using existing technologies.⁴ This change suggests not a sudden automation takeover but a gradual shift in work organization and job composition. Due to automation, large occupational categories such as office support, food service, and customer service will likely experience notable shrinkage.
Job losses are expected to occur more through attrition and reduced hiring rather than sudden unemployment. A significant concern is the potential hollowing out of middle-wage jobs. By 2030, these could decline by 3.4 percentage points in national employment.⁴ The growth of high-wage jobs is contingent on workers acquiring the necessary education and skills. Addressing the challenges of middle-wage job shrinkage is vital for sustaining the US middle class.
Demographic and Educational Implications
In this evolving labor market, roles that are more susceptible to automation tend to be those requiring lower levels of education. This trend has broad implications, impacting a significant workforce segment where educational attainment varies widely.
For example, sectors like the service industry have a heightened risk of job displacement. This is mainly because many positions in this sector, such as those in food service, are highly automatable. This situation highlights the need for strategies to address worker challenges in roles vulnerable to technological advancements.
Both the youngest and oldest segments of the labor force face unique risks from automation. The phasing out of entry-level roles like retail or food service could impact young workers’ career paths, while older workers might find transitioning to new roles challenging.
Some jobs at high risk from automation are predominantly occupied by one gender, such as driving and assembly line roles (mostly male) and administrative roles (predominantly female). On the other hand, women are expected to capture a significant portion of net job growth through 2030, primarily due to representation in health professions and personal care work.⁴
Addressing Workforce Challenges
To navigate the evolving labor market landscape, it’s crucial to consider strategies for effectively addressing workforce challenges, particularly given the significant changes brought on by demographic shifts and technological advancements.
1. Connecting Displaced Workers
The challenge of linking displaced workers with new, growing jobs can be addressed by leveraging our resources. As a staffing solutions provider, we play a pivotal role in facilitating job-matching efforts, evaluating skills, and pinpointing jobs in high demand. Our platform is designed to bridge the gap between talented individuals and the dynamic job market, ensuring a smoother transition for those seeking new employment opportunities.
2. Lifelong Learning and Training
The increasing demand for high-level skills, including critical thinking and creativity, necessitates a shift towards lifelong learning. Training options outside the workplace will be crucial, especially for workers needing to switch employers or occupations.
3. Local Economic Development Strategies
Addressing economic development issues at the local and regional levels is essential. Strategies may vary based on the community’s needs, from connecting disadvantaged populations with opportunities in megacities to addressing the lack of economic activity in rural areas.
4. Remote Work Opportunities
Accepting remote working models could create job opportunities in rural areas, contingent on fast, affordable broadband availability. Initiatives like the Rural Innovation Initiative are working to nurture tech talent and spur professional collaboration in rural cities.⁵
5. Strengthening the Social Safety Net
Modernizing and strengthening the social safety net is crucial for supporting workers transitioning between jobs, especially those living paycheck-to-paycheck. This support could include income support programs, relocation assistance, training grants, and portable benefits.
6. Addressing Wage Stagnation
Countering wage stagnation, a trend dating back to the 1980s, requires sustained economic growth.⁶ It’s crucial for employers to address the implications if a significant portion of the population falls behind in terms of wages and financial well-being.
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1. “US Bureau of Labor Statistics. ‘Employment Projections: 2022-2032 Summary.” US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 6 Sep. 2023, www.bls.gov/news.release/ecopro.
2. Buckley, Patricia and Bachman, Daniel. “Meet the US workforce of the future: Older, more diverse, and more educated.” Deloitte Insights, 31 Jul. 2017, www.deloitte.com/meet-the-us-workforce-of-the-future.
3. Colato, Javier and Ice, Lindsey. “Industry and Occupational Employment Projections, Overview and Highlights, 2022-32.’ Monthly Labor Review”, US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Oct. 2023, www.bls.gov/industry-and-occupational-employment-projections-overview-and-highlights-2022-32.
4. Lund, Susan et. al. “The future of work in America: People and places, today and tomorrow.” McKinsey and Company, 11 Jul. 2019, www.mckinsey.com/the-future-of-work-in-america-people-and-places-today-and-tomorrow.
5. “Rural Innovation Initiative.” Center on Rural Innovation, ruralinnovation.us/community-impact/rural-innovation-initiative. 6 Dec. 2023.
6. Mishel, Lawrence, et al. “Wage Stagnation in Nine Charts” Economic Policy Institute, 6 Jan. 2015, www.epi.org/publication/charting-wage-stagnation.