What Is the Employment-to-Population Ratio?

The employment-to-population ratio is a macroeconomic statistic that measures the civilian labor force currently employed to the total working-age population of a region, municipality, or country. It is calculated by dividing the number of people employed by the total number of people of working age, and it is used as a metric of labor and unemployment.

Understanding the Employment-to-Population Ratio

Compared with other metrics, the employment-to-population ratio is not as affected by seasonal variations or short-term fluctuations in the labor market. As a result, it is often considered to be a more reliable indicator of job shrinkage or growth than the unemployment number in particular.

Consider if 50 million people are employed in an area with 75 million people of working age, the employment-to-population ratio is 66.7 percent. It is calculated by the equation:

Labor Force EmployedTotal Population\frac{\text{Labor Force Employed}}{\text{Total Population}}Total PopulationLabor Force Employed

This measure is similar to the labor force participation rate, which measures the total labor force - and not just the part of the labor force already employed - divided by the total population. 

The civilian labor force is a term used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to refer to Americans who are considered either employed or unemployed. Those not included in the labor force count include military personnel, federal government employees, retirees, handicapped or discouraged workers, and some agricultural workers.

Key Takeaways

  • In economics, the employment-to-population ratio is the measure of a civilian labor force to the total working-age population.
  • The civilian labor force encompasses employed and non-employed people and excludes military personnel, federal government employees, retirees, disabled persons, and some others.
  • Seasonal variations and short-term labor fluctuations do not affect the employment-to-population ratio.
  • Unlike the unemployment rate, the employment-to-population ratio includes unemployed people not looking for jobs.

Limitations of the Employment-to-Population Ratio

The employment-to-population ratio does not include the institutionalized population, such as people in mental hospitals and prisons, as well as people in school, studying for a career. It also doesn't take into account black market labor, an absence that makes the ratio seem lower than it should be.

The employment-to-population ratio also fails to account for people who are over or under the working age but are still working, such as babysitters or child actors. These workers may be counted in the employed part of the ratio but may not be included in the total number of people of working age, meaning their employment inaccurately increases the ratio. Additionally, the number of hours worked is not taken into account, and as a result, the ratio does not discriminate between part-time and full-time workers.

How the Employment-to-Population Ratio Compares With the Unemployment Rate

Surprisingly, the employment-to-population ratio does not directly relate to unemployment figures. For example, in October 2014, the employment-to-population ratio was 59.5 percent, but the unemployment rate was only 3.5 percent. Together, these numbers only account for 63 percent of the population, raising the question of what happened to the remaining third.

The discrepancy between these two numbers exists because the unemployment number does not indicate the number of people without employment. It only indicates the number of unemployed people who are looking for jobs.

3.6%

The US unemployment rate as of November 1, 2019.

For example, people who have retired early and those who have decided to go back to school to further their job prospects are not taken into account in the unemployment figure. However, their absence from the workforce is nodded to in the employment-to-population ratio. Also, people who want a job but have given up on the quest to find one are not included in the nation's unemployment number.