The Crisis of America’s Nonworking Men

The Crisis of America’s Nonworking Men, by Rachel DiCarlo Currie.

Based on the official unemployment rate — which held steady at 4.9 percent last month — America’s labor market has fully recovered from the Great Recession. Indeed, many prominent economists, including Federal Reserve officials, believe we have reached  “maximum” employment or something very close to it.

Based on another indicator, however, America’s labor market remains stuck in a long-term crisis — a crisis that has gotten significantly worse since 2008.

Simply put: There are millions of American men in their prime working years who have dropped out of the labor force.

As of August, the labor-force-participation rate among men aged 25 to 54 stood at 88.3 percent — down from 90.5 percent in August 2006, … 94.3 percent in August 1976, … and 97.2 percent in August 1956.

10 million men in their prime have dropped out in the US.

“Benchmarked against 1965,” writes Eberstadt, “when American men were at genuine full employment, the ‘male jobs deficit’ in 2015 would be nearly 10 million, even after taking into account an older population and more adults in college.”

But nobody cares. They ought to.

Who are America’s nonworking men? As Eberstadt observes, they “tend to be: 1. less educated; 2. never married; 3. native born; and 4. African-American. But those categories intersect in interesting ways.” For example, “Black married men are more likely to be in the workforce than unmarried whites.”

The decline of work is indeed closely related to the decline of marriage among Americans with less education and fewer skills. As University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax has emphasized, “Marriage causes men to become more industrious, law-abiding, and sober.” By the same token, delaying or avoiding marriage makes it easier for men to delay or avoid becoming responsible adults.

At root, work is about pride, dignity, and purpose. It’s about shedding the frivolities of youth and assuming the burdens of maturity. And it’s absolutely critical to family stability, civic engagement, and broad-based prosperity. Eberstadt is correct in describing the labor-force exodus by prime-age men as a quiet catastrophe. Let’s hope more people start noticing it.