In economics, especially labor economics, the labor force is defined generally as people of working age who, employed or unemployed, are either working or looking for work. Generally, people below working age or above retirement age are not considered to be part of the labor force. In most places, working age begins between ages 14 and 16, while retirement age tends to be around 65 years old. Full-time students, people in the military, the long-term sick and disabled, and those with unreported incomes are also not counted in the force.
One important concept related to the labor force is unemployment. One is considered unemployed if he currently has no job but is willing and available to work. The unemployed, then, are considered to be a part of the labor force despite the fact that they are not actually producing any labor. On the other hand, those who desire jobs but have quit actively seeking them because of discouragement or other factors are not considered to be a part of the force. A high unemployment rate is generally a bad thing as it means there are many people who want to work but not enough jobs to go around.
Another important concept used by economists is labor the force participation rate, which is a ratio of the size of the labor force to the total population of working age people in a given area. It is used to analyze trends and changes in the workforce. The participation rate increased drastically, for example, when women started working in greater numbers. Previously, they were of working age but not working, so the participation rate was much lower. The participation rate also describes the effects of a large influx of workers to the work force; if there are not enough jobs available, total employment and total unemployment can both increase.
The size of the labor force is largely dependent on the economic conditions at any given time. When an economy is running smoothly and productively, the force should be large and only a small fraction of individuals in the force should be unemployed. Generally speaking, in a good economy, those who want jobs can find them and people are unlikely to become discouraged and leave the labor force. On the other hand, when an economy is not doing well or is in a state of crisis, the force will likely decline as the rate of unemployment increases and people become discouraged.