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Though jobs numbers beat expectations, this one statistic continues to frustrate economists

Today’s jobs numbers beat expectations—nonfarm payrolls increased by 255,000 jobs in July, average hourly wages increased 8 cents, and unemployment remained at 4.9 percent—but one depressing number continues to stymie a full economic recovery.

That’s the workforce participation rate, which captures the percent of working-age Americans over the age of 16 who are employed or at least looking for a job. It’s been on a steady decline since 1998, despite the recovery since the Great Recession, and is at a 38-year low. Though it increased slightly in July, by one-tenth of a percentage point to 62.8%, it still shows that millions of Americans just can’t get jobs or have given up looking for employment.

The below chart, which looks like a perfect Bell Curve, reflects the labor force participate rate since 1978.

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