Men have been steadily exiting the US workforce since pre-pandemic times — even now, despite millions of job openings and an uncertain economic climate.
As the US labor market remains incredibly tight – with the economy adding 263,000 more jobs in November – around 7 million “prime-age” men between the ages of 25 and 54 are said to be out.
“They are actually not looking for work. They knocked. They’re done,” TV host Mike Rowe said on The Brian Kilmeade Show, citing research by economist Nick Eberstadt.
“So what’s really happening in the country now that scares me to my core is that we’ve never had so many unrealized opportunities and so little enthusiasm for it.”
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Why the activity rate is decreasing
Eberstadt first noted the decline in the number of men with jobs in his 2016 book, Men Without Work — a trend he says has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. While many workers have been laid off or left due to illness, not all have returned to the job market, even after job vacancies resumed.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis also found that 25% of prime-age Americans aren’t currently working – and while some say they’re looking for a job, but can’t find one, others actively choose not to join the job search. The report indicates reasons such as caring for a parent or an elderly child, health problems, early retirement, studies or enlistment in the army.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce surveyed Americans who lost their jobs during the pandemic and about a quarter said federal aid prompted them not to actively seek work, while about half are not willing to accept jobs that do not offer the possibility of remote work. . More than a third of younger respondents said they were focused on learning new skills and prioritizing personal growth before re-entering the workforce.
There is a growing gender gap
Eberstadt says a large majority of these prime-age men spend about 2,000 hours a year on screens, do little housework, and spend no time volunteering. However, there could be more to the story than men just slacking off and staying home.
The decline of men in the workforce may be partly due to the decline in manufacturing jobs since the 1960s, which have either been automated or offshored.
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Additionally, research shows that women are more likely to have a four-year college degree than men, while post-secondary education generally comes with better job prospects. According to the Pew Research Center, women make up more than half of America’s college-educated workforce.
College-educated women are now participating in the labor force at the same rate as before the pandemic, while the proportion of college-educated men who are working or actively seeking work has declined.
Why is it a problem
Rowe calls the decline in male labor force participation “the most frightening measure of all” because it is “an indication of what is to come.”
The reduction in labor force participation has already taken its toll on the lowest-paying industries – the leisure and hospitality sector has seen the highest quit rate since July 2021, and retail trade n is not far behind, reports the Chamber of Commerce.
And durable goods manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, and education and health services are struggling with a shortage of skilled workers.
This puts more pressure on the remaining employees, who may face longer hours, tougher responsibilities, and burnout.
“Directing your employees like that – asking them to do 20%, 30% more because you’re understaffed – it’s really a short-term strategy. You’re going to keep losing people,” Paige Ouimet, a professor at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, told The Washington Post.
Some employers, such as restaurants and airlines, are reportedly offering higher wages, although economists say this could contribute to inflation as higher labor costs can drive up prices.
“The labor shortage in the United States will likely have to be solved through a combination of immigration, automation, and recession,” Eberstadt writes in an op-ed for The Washington Post, but adds that this is “far from reduce popular anxiety and discontent”.
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This article provides information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.
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