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Thread: Why Aren’t More Men Working?

  1. #1
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    Why Aren’t More Men Working?

    With unemployment at 3.8 percent, its lowest level in many years, the labor market seems healthy.

    But that number hides a perplexing anomaly: The percentage of men who are neither working nor looking for work has risen substantially over the past several decades.

    The issue, in economist’s jargon, is labor force participation. When the Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys households, every adult is put into one of three categories. Those who have a job are employed. Those who are not working but are searching for a job are unemployed. Those who are neither working nor looking for work are counted as out of the labor force.

    This last group is ignored when calculating the unemployment rate. The presumption is that if a person without a job isn’t looking for one, then he or she doesn’t want one, and the joblessness is not a problem. But is that really accurate?

    The data show some striking changes over time. Among women, the share out of the labor force has fallen from 66 percent in 1950 to 43 percent today. That is not surprising in light of changing social norms and the greater career opportunities now open to women.

    Men, however, exhibit the opposite long-term trend. In 1950, 14 percent of men were out of the labor force. Today, that figure stands at 31 percent.

    Some of this change is easy to explain. People now spend more years in school, delaying their start of work. In addition, as life expectancy rises, people have longer retirements. A man retiring at age 65 in 1950 could expect to live another 13 years. Today, a man retiring at that age has an average retirement of 18 years.

    Yet schooling and retirement explain only part of what has occurred. Consider prime-age men, those from the ages of 25 to 54. These men are generally well past their schooling and well before their retirement. Yet this group has also been exiting the labor force.

    In 1950, only 4 percent of prime-age men were not working or looking for work. Today, that figure is 11 percent.

    Why has that number nearly tripled?

    One likely hypothesis, discussed in a recent paper by the economists Katharine G. Abraham and Melissa S. Kearney, is that the rise in nonparticipation is related to declining opportunities for those with low levels of education.

    Economists who study rising inequality, like my Harvard colleagues Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz, attribute a large share of it to skill-biased technological change — the tendency for advances in technology to enhance the productivity and wages of workers who have certain skills while reducing the demand for those who don’t. Unskilled workers are left with the choice of accepting lower wages or leaving the labor force. This hypothesis is consistent with the fact that labor force participation has fallen more for workers with lower levels of educational attainment.

    Compounding these trends is international trade, which can have much the same effects as technology. Whether an American manufacturing worker is replaced by a robot or a Chinese worker, the result is the same: job displacement. (The benefit to consumers — lower prices — is the same, too.) If the jobs that remain available are much less attractive than the one a worker just lost, he may give up looking.

    One might wonder how these less educated, prime-age men support themselves after leaving the labor force. The social safety net plays a role. In a study for the Mercatus Center of George Mason University, Scott Winship reports that “75 percent of inactive prime-age men are in a household that received some form of government transfer payment.” Mr. Winship believes that government disability benefits in particular are one reason for the lack of interest in work.

    Moreover, the social safety net extends beyond government aid. For many young adults, living with their parents is a viable option, even if not an attractive one for all participants. The recent court case brought by a couple to evict their 30-year-old son from the family home is just one facet of a broader social trend.

    For many non-workers, being out of the labor force is intermittent rather than permanent. In his recent Harvard Ph.D. dissertation, John Coglianese documented the rise of what he calls “in-and-outs” — prime-age men who temporarily leave the labor force. While not working, these men live off their savings or the income of their spouse or cohabiting partner.

    It is an open question how policymakers should respond, or whether they should at all. The decision to look for work is a personal one, and in a free society people will naturally make different choices. Yet it is troubling that rising nonparticipation is most pronounced for those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

    One step in the right direction would be to expand opportunity by increasing educational attainment and skills training. Doing so would help expand opportunity, as well as address many other problems facing the economy. But that is easier said than done.

    Spending more on education might help, but is a tough political sell. And improving the educational system could require not just more money, but fundamental reforms that are hotly contested by the various stakeholders.

    The data on labor force participation show that the economy is changing in profound and disquieting ways. The literature on this phenomenon is growing but has yet to yield any easy answers.
    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/15/b...ment-jobs.html

  2. #2
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    It is an open question how policymakers should respond, or whether they should at all. The decision to look for work is a personal one, and in a free society people will naturally make different choices. Yet it is troubling that rising nonparticipation is most pronounced for those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

    One step in the right direction would be to expand opportunity by increasing educational attainment and skills training. Doing so would help expand opportunity, as well as address many other problems facing the economy. But that is easier said than done.

    Spending more on education might help, but is a tough political sell. And improving the educational system could require not just more money, but fundamental reforms that are hotly contested by the various stakeholders.
    It's funny how they explicitly recognize that the rising demand for advanced education in order to make a respectable living, yet immediately fall back on 'more education' as the primary measure to mitigate people falling out of the labor market. How about implementing laws that make it harder to outsource production jobs as well as stopping the import of cheap labor from the 3rd World? Unfortunately, such thinking falls outside of the realm of global-capital dogma. At least in the West. China has no issues putting such restrictions on their market, nor have any qualms about demanding other countries accept the importation of Chinese foreign workers. The reason low-skilled, low-educated people fall out of the labor market in the West, is because they're implicitly told they're not wanted and there's no need for them.

    Low-skilled entry-level jobs have massively declined in number since the 60s, and the ones who are still around, usually favor foreign nationals who don't mind working for scraps. Uneducated natives in the West are mostly left with the option of working a soulless, dead-end job as a cashier or in customer support. While a couple of generations ago, any young man could just head down to the docks and sign up for the first ship heading out to sea, and go on an adventure and actually learn and grow. If they're not cut out for higher education these days, I really don't blame the men who think the system is not even worth participating in.
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    I don't think you can sum up these problems in a few statements. Many men have been laid off and find "temporary" jobs as means of survival. They want to settle down and start a family but find the labor market unreliable and unstable over the last 20 years. We are the contract generation that hears endlessly about "employment based on the needs of the company." Other complications have to do with degree choice and timing of markets; some STEM degrees can be obsolete within 5 years due to changing market conditions. Besides, students get caught up in loan rackets and owe too much monies for a useless K-mart degree so they become debt-slaves to the banks.
    I have had friends that got investment and computer programming degrees but lost jobs due to mostly corporate mergers and downsizing the labor pool due to slowed down markets. To make things worse, US congress allows Microsoft and many tech companies to import workers from Asia to wage bust and lay off White males at the same time. No one protects our jobs and can be out sourced any time. We call this "see-saw" effect as we lose jobs and bring in many immigrants to replace local workers, and manufacturing jobs go overseas to Asia or Mexico. Then, they blame the worker for not "working long enough hours." Really? My friends and husband works 43-65 hours per week much like the Asian population. The average educated person in the US works as long as Koreans and Japanese because they want job security. I have seen my husband pull 60-80 hours per week at times because of a hiring freeze and to prevent lay offs at the company. US companies are "burning out" their employees by hiring less workers and complain about our poor work ethics and attitudes.
    On an individual level, some men today don't have the work ethics or commitments to succeed financially. They may not desire family responsibility and "drift" to various jobs. Men take their jobs more seriously when they have children to support.

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