The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has released a new Economic Survey of the U.S. which shows a robust near-term outlook for the economy but also shows that “prime-age” workforce participation lags behind other nations. This means American workers ages 25-54 are slipping through the cracks. But why?

SOURCE: Wallstreet Journal

“While material well being is high and Americans appear to be doing well on average in comparison to other OECD countries, job losses have become more persistent in areas hit by structural shocks, especially in the industrial heartland. This has created areas of high unemployment, non-participation in the labor force and poverty.

The declining participation of prime age workers compared to other OECD countries is a worrisome concern. The participation rate of women has recovered somewhat, but many young men with lower educational attainment remain at the fringes of the labor market. While the tightening labor market and accelerating wage growth foreseen over the next few years will be important in inducing some inactive workers to return to work, the Survey also recommends experimentation with active labor market policies, such as job placement services and supporting geographic mobility.”

The report suggests several factors could be holding back the U.S. prime-age participation rate, noting that the participation rates for all adults vary by geography and demographic characteristics. The overall U.S. participation rates for all adults—not just those of prime age—vary by state from a low of 53% in West Virginia in December to a high of about 71% in North Dakota.
Not to mention, the use of opioid drugs “appears to be connected” to labor market conditions, the report said.

“Opioid prescription rates are generally higher where overall labor-force participation rates are lower. While possible to remain in employment, the correlation with nonparticipation in areas most beset by opioid addiction suggests that addiction ultimately impairs participation.

In addition, when addiction leads to criminality, the consequences of a felony record can drastically reduce employment possibilities.”

Separate research has highlighted this connection between drug use and falling labor-force participation among prime-age workers.
We can’t ignore that these are the challenges affecting our workforce on both national and local scales. While we can all acknowledge that the right career pathway isn’t always obvious, it especially is not when, for many, the immediate need is simply finding a job—any job that pays enough for survival. In these cases, professional development can seem out of reach.
But local programs like AIME (Assembling Industry: Manufacturing & Education) address these needs and more, preparing individuals for not just jobs but careers in manufacturing when they may otherwise not have been participating in the workforce.
Since its inception in 2010, the AIME program has done just what OECD’s survey suggests regarding experimentation with job placement services and supporting geographic mobility. A partnership among Clinton Community College, CV-TEC, and ETS, AIME accomplishes this. During the 8-week, hands-on program students are connecting to the workforce through OSHA certifications, facility tours, national work readiness credentials, resume tips, and interview preparation, all pointing toward a clear pathway to launch a career in manufacturing.
Learn more about the AIME program at