Randall Forsyth‘s “Up & Down Wall Street” column in the latest Barron’s highlights a troublesome piece of news connected with the federal government’s latest unemployment report.

[T]he household report told a scarier story of fewer folks working and even fewer looking for work, even if it anomalously produced a lower headline jobless rate. Only 63.3% of the working-age population was either working or actively looking for a job last month, the lowest since May 1979, when the participation in the workplace by women was ramping up. Had labor-force participation rates remained around the 66% level that had prevailed before the 2007-2009 recession, the unemployment rate would be about four percentage points higher, in the mid-11% range, writes Joshua Shapiro, chief economist for MFR. And demographics aren’t affecting the participation rate as commonly assumed.

“Making things worse from a social perspective,” he adds, “the drop in the participation rate has been centered in younger workers, many of whom have given up hope of finding a decent job and are instead continuing in school and racking up enormous amounts of student debt, which has contributed to the recent surge in consumer credit outstanding. Difficulties of the young are exacerbated by the rising participation rates of older members of the labor force who have seen retirement savings/benefits and home values diminish, and who are now being forced to work longer than many had originally planned.”