Where have the workers gone?

US labor market participation remains below where it was before the pandemic. Economists are not sure why these workers have left the labor market, whether they have left permanently or temporarily, and under what conditions they would return. They are not showing up on unemployment rolls, so what are they doing? The answer to this puzzle will tell us whether a tight labor market will persist.

From May 2021 to March 2023 (and ongoing), RIWI, in collaboration with labor economist Daniel Alpert, has been running a continuous study on unemployment insurance claimants, including why they aren’t working and what it would take for them to return to the labor market.

RIWI is now launching a new, continuous study, to build on the above study. The study would examine the pre- and post-pandemic changes in circumstances of the US working age population, including those workers who are working part-time or who have left the labor market.

The study will be run continuously. Included are questions related to workers who have left the labor market since the start of the pandemic and what they are doing, including how they are supporting themselves. The objective is to shed light on the puzzle of what has happened to these workers, to understand whether this is a structural issue or a temporary one. (UI claims data would not capture these workers unless they were reemployed and then laid off again.)

For the list of questions, or to subscribe to and access the datasets, please reach out to us at