Although “labour” and “work” are thought of as synonyms, perhaps because they are often interchangeable, when we’re talking about forces, there is a significant distinction to be made. While they share some meaning, the actual difference is as much to do with unemployment as active work. 

What’s a labour force?

A labour force is the total number of people that are eligible, able and willing to work. However, we are aware that an entire population can’t be expected to engage in economically-productive actions (jobs), meaning children and the elderly aren’t included in the labour force count. The labour force includes those who can work, but choose not to, meaning its true value is the measure of all competent workers.

…and what’s a workforce?

From the total pool of workers (labour force), those that are actually engaged in economically-productive actions (employed) are known as a workforce. Therefore, the only difference between the values of the two terms is unemployment. Basically, from the entire group of valid workers, in essence those who are within the eligible age bracket and able to work, those that are currently working are the workforce.

Unemployment = Labour Force – Work Force

Example Scenario

Say, for example, you lead a micro-country of 100 citizens. Using the UK population figures of 2019, we can assume that roughly 20% of people are under the age of 18 while another 20% are over 65, resulting in an eligible group of 60% of your country. Therefore, your labour force is 60 people. However, 4% of your citizens are unemployed, either validly (disability) or not (unwillingness), therefore your actual workforce is 56 people.

Unemployment (4) = Labour Force (60) – Workforce (54)

Measuring this data against your total number of citizens, means you can extrapolate what percentage of your population is actively contributing economically, allowing you to infer the maximum work rate for your country.

Total population (100) – Ineligible workers (40) = Labour Force (60)

As you have 100 people, but a labour force of only 60 people, any expectations or targets for employment rates should be made with the latter in mind. In simpler terms, if a farmer owns 10 trees, but 4 are either too juvenile or elderly to produce fruit, his actual production capacity, i.e. his fruit-bearing trees, is 6 not 10.