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What’s the story behind who’s working?

Disaggregating EPOP by race and gender


Back in 2016, a FRED Blog post discussed the volatility of the labor market for people of different races based on the employment-to-population ratio (EPOP). The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines this measure as “the number of employed people as a percentage of the civilian noninstitutional population.” So EPOP is basically the percentage of adults who are employed.

The EPOPs for Hispanic and Black Americans have increased at roughly the same rates since the Great Recession of 2007-09, while the growth rate for White Americans has leveled off. This change occurred in spite of the decrease in employment from the Great Recession, which hit Hispanics and Blacks harder than Whites, judging by the steepness and level of decreases between 2008 and 2010. In fact, the EPOP for Hispanics has again risen above the ratio for Whites, which first happened in January 2000.

The next graph shows EPOPs according to both race and gender: It appears that the gap between Black and White overall is mostly due to the gap between Black men and White men. The EPOP for Black women has been higher than the EPOP for White women since the fourth quarter of 2014. A recent working paper from the Levy Institute at Bard College indicates that the changes in EPOP are due to increases in labor force participation for Blacks and the aging/retiring of White Baby Boomers.

The EPOP is by no means a comprehensive measure of well-being or fairness in the labor market. For example, St. Louis Fed Review articles discuss the significant gaps in wages and homeownership rates between Black and White Americans, and a stratification economics approach explores the enduring racial wealth gap. And there’s also no EPOP data for smaller racial and ethnic groups, such as Asians and Native Americans. But the EPOP does present interesting trend data about employment and demographic changes that can be useful for research.

How this graph was created: From the employment situation release table, select the series you want according to race and gender and click “Add to Graph.” For the second graph, the women’s employment-population ratio line is a different shade of the color for the men’s employment-to-population ratio line. This can be adjusted with the “Edit Graph” panel’s “Format” tools. The data range selected is 1972-01-01 to present.

Suggested by Darren Chang and Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: LNS12300003, LNS12300006, LNS12300009, LNS12300028, LNS12300029, LNS12300032, LNU02300031


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