More Men in Prime Working Ages Don’t Have Jobs

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Technology and Globalization Transform Employment Amid Slow Economic Recovery.

More than one in six men ages 25 to 54, prime working years, don’t have jobs—a total of 10.4 million. Some are looking for jobs; many aren’t. Some had jobs that went overseas or were lost to technology. Some refuse to uproot for work because they are tied down by family needs or tethered to homes worth less than the mortgage. Some rely on government benefits. Others depend on working spouses.

Having so many men out of work is partly a symptom of a U.S. economy slow to recover from the worst recession in 75 years. It is also a chronic condition that shows how technology and globalization are transforming jobs faster than many workers can adapt, economists say.

The trend has been building for decades, according to government data. In the early 1970s, just 6% of American men ages 25 to 54 were without jobs. By late 2007, it was 13%. In 2009, during the worst of the recession, nearly 20% didn’t have jobs.

Although the economy is improving and the unemployment rate is falling, 17% of working-age men weren’t working in December. More than two-thirds said they weren’t looking for work, so the government doesn’t label them unemployed.

For women, the story is different. In the 1950s, only about a third of women ages 25 to 54 had jobs. That rose steadily until the 1990s, and then leveled off for reasons that aren’t clear. At last tally, about 70% were working; 30% weren’t.

Men without jobs stand apart in a society that has long celebrated work and hailed the breadwinners who support their families. “Our culture is one that venerates work, that views work as good for its own sake,” said David Autor, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist.

The bleak prospects for the long-term unemployed—40% of men looking for jobs say they have been out of work six months or more—alarms policy makers and economists. The longer a person is unemployed, according to historic data, the harder it is to find a job.

Since the early 1970s, the average inflation-adjusted wage for high-school dropouts has fallen about 25%; for high-school graduates with no college degree, it is down about 15%. Simply put, many of the available jobs don’t pay enough to get men to take them, particularly if securing a job requires moving, long commutes or surrendering government benefits.

Economists who had expected the fraction of men working or at least looking for work to be approaching prerecession levels by now are dumbfounded. “It’s looking worse and worse,” said Johns Hopkins University’s Robert Moffett, who has researched the subject. “It’s unexpected.”

Although 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day, these unemployed men are too young for conventional retirement. Many are closer to the start of their working lives.

In 1989, 3% of men ages 25 to 64 collected federal disability benefits. In 2013, 5.5% did, according to the Social Security Administration, and about half of those—more than two million men—were age 54 or younger.

Education makes a difference. Of the 25- to 54-year-old men who weren’t working last year, about three-quarters stopped their schooling somewhere short of a two-year college degree, compared with about 55% of men with jobs.

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