The Labor Department reported that as of April, 58.4 percent of the U.S. population was gainfully employed. That's down from 58.6 percent in February, and exactly where the employment-to-population ratio stood a year ago.
The decline reflects the fact that job gains aren't keeping up with population growth. It also demonstrates the illusory nature of April's reduction in the unemployment rate, to 8.1 percent from 8.2 percent in March.
The Labor Department, in its monthly household survey, counts people as unemployed only if they're in the labor force, meaning they're actively looking for work. In April, the estimated number of people in the labor force fell by 342,000. So the unemployment rate fell, too, even though the survey counted 169,000 fewer people with jobs.
What can U.S. policy makers do about the weak labor market? Congress isn't likely to provide more fiscal stimulus, as Bloomberg View editors point out today. That leaves the Fed to at least protect what meager gains we've made.
(Mark Whitehouse is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)