How many men aren’t working?
More than 7 million men between the ages of 25 and 54 — prime working age — have dropped out of the labor force. That means they’re not only unemployed but have also given up looking for a job. Shortly after World War II, virtually every man of prime working age was either working or looking for work. But the labor force participation rate for men has been declining steadily since the mid-1960s, from almost 97 percent to about 88 percent today. There is a smaller percentage of men working now than in 1940, near the end of the Great Depression, when the overall unemployment rate was above 14 percent. Nicholas Eberstadt, an economist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, has called the case of the missing men a “quiet catastrophe,” forgotten amid the broader story of America’s economic recovery since the financial crisis. “It is well past time for America to recognize the collapse of work for men as the grave ill that it truly is,” he says.
Why aren’t they working?
There is no one single reason. Men have been dropping out of the workforce at roughly the same rate for the past half century, through boom times and recessions alike. The decline in manufacturing jobs has almost certainly played a role. In 1970, more than a quarter of American workers, most of them men, had jobs in factories. Today, it’s fewer than one in 10. Nevertheless, only one in seven men outside the workforce says a lack of available jobs is the reason he’s not working. Another problem is the explosion of America’s prison population. By some estimates, 12 percent of adult men have been convicted of a felony, not including those currently imprisoned. Employers are reluctant to hire ex-cons, so many of these men have found themselves virtually unemployable.