October saw the largest increase in private sector job growth since April, according to a recent Financial Times article. The fact that the private sector added 159,000 jobs last month–beating expectations– should be an uplifting statistic for our economic recovery.

But last week’s jobs report also included more sobering numbers– not only did the unemployment rate remain at 9.6 percent, but the number of discouraged workers hit a record 1.2 million.

Discouraged workers are those that have become so pessimistic about their job prospects that they simply give up. They are not counted as unemployed (and thus not included in the unemployment rate), because they are no longer considered part of the labor force.

The existence of discouraged workers is significant, because it illustrates the hidden unemployment in America that is not reflected in the official unemployment rate. This also means that while October’s job growth is good news, we are still far from being out of the woods.

From the article:

“There’s much more confidence in hiring,” said Hilda Solis, U.S. labour secretary. But she added: “It’s not nearly enough. We have to keep the focus. Jobs have to be the number one priority.”

A related article in USA Today highlights another alarming statistic.

Workers 55 and older totaled 335,000, or 27.5 percent of all discouraged workers in October, the single-largest demographic group.

The decline of mature workers’ participation in the labor force is unfortunate– they often possess critical skills and experience of great value to employers.

One way that employers can encourage the participation of mature workers in the workforce is through workplace flexibility. Corporate Voices for Working Families believes that flexibility– from shift trading and flexible scheduling to telecommuting–is a key management strategy for the 21st century. When companies provide options to help workers manage work and life, morale and productivity increase, and businesses experience less turnover and a more engaged, productive workforce.

With workplace flexibility, employers can support their employees throughout all stages of life. Flexible workplaces support nursing mothers at work, encourage post-secondary and continuing education for working learners, and they can drive mature workers’ participation in the labor force.

Corporate Voices will continue to promote workplace flexibility as an innovative way the business community can harness key talent in the workforce- for the benefit of businesses, working families, and our nation’s economic prosperity.