Why Men Are Not Working

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There is a growing trend in the United States that could have far reaching ramifications for our labor force over the next ten years – fewer men are working. Social scientists are still trying to understand the underlying reasons for the decline. The year 2000 now appear to be he high watermark for work and employment for men in the United States. Here are a couple of underlying causes:

  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP) averaged 2.3% annual growth from 1948 to 2000. After 2000, it has averaged less than 1.5 percent. Slower growth and more technology mean fewer new jobs.
  • Jobs that were lost in 2001 and in the 2008 “great recession” are not coming back. In 2017, we finally reached pre-2008 job numbers. The job market is taking longer to come back.
  • For every officially unemployed American man between the ages of 25 and 55, there are another three who are neither working nor looking for work. There is a growing skills gap between what workers have to offer and what is needed in the marketplace.
  • The United States is producing weath for wealth holders, but decidedly less work for workers. There is a growing divide between the wealthy and the poor.
  • Public trust in all U.S. institutions (churches, government, education, etc.) has dropped since 2000.
  • Death rates for males with high school degrees or less and between the ages of 45 to 54 have risen dramatically. This is one of the reasons there is such anxiety about changes in Obamacare and what will replace it.

According to “time use” surveys, researchers have found that the routine for working-age male labor force dropouts consists of watching an average of 2,000 hours a year of content on TV, DVDs, the internet or smart phones. Watching TV has taken on the role of a full-time job. According to the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program participation in 2013, 21% of all civilian men between 25 and 55 years of age were Medicaid beneficiaries.

The rise in federal government benefit programs cannot support a lavish lifestyle, but they do offer a meager alternative to paid employment and for a growing number of American men, the programs have replaced work. There are three key factors impacting the problem:

  1. Social Mobility. Social mobility and geographical mobility have been one of our country’s greatest attributes. The Census Bureau reported geographic mobility has declined for the last 30 years and in 2016 was at an all-time low since 1945.
  2. Job Churning. The churning between jobs that allows people to get ahead financially with a better paying job has been declining for years, and there is no sign it will change in the future.
  3. Surpassing Your Parents.
  4. For generations, it was not uncommon for the next generation to surpass their parent’s income and lifestyle. Today, some experts believe only 50% of the next generation will surpass their parent’s income. The American dream seems to be fading for many young people who have taken on large school debt and have seen the high paying jobs that were expected.

Our economic dysfunction created the perfect storm for the election of 2016. Understanding the trends is important, and next week I will write about the opportunities we can take advantage of around these changes in the economy.

Why Men Are Not Working Part 2

Last week, I wrote about major trends of men “not” working in the United States. The trends were not encouraging and could have far reaching results. Here are some of the key trends: 1) the annual growth rate for the U.S. has been below 1.5% annually since 2000, which means fewer new jobs; 2) jobs that are lost in the 21st century come back much slower than at any other time in our modern history; 3) technology is replacing jobs; 4) manufacturing jobs only make up 7% of the jobs in the United States and are becoming fewer and fewer in the current economy; 5) death rates for males between the ages of 45 and 55 have increased dramatically in the last ten years; and 6) over 12% of the male workforce between 24 and 55 have stopped looking for work.

The trends are disquieting for several reasons, but are reversible if, as a society and culture, we make changes starting today. Here are several key suggestions:

  1. Work is honorable. Somewhere over the last two decades, we have developed this attitude that some work is beneath us and we should not have to do it. I have noticed this attitude in some Millenials and Generation Zs who think they deserve better or are entitled to better jobs. Work is honorable and the willingness to sacrifice and to delay gratification should be encouraged and honored. Things are not easy and work is not easy. The path to success is long and hard, but it requires the willingness to outwork other people.
  2. A disconnect between available jobs and training. We have over 2 million jobs going unfilled because businesses cannot find trained people to fill the jobs. I am not talking low-paying jobs; I am talking about jobs that pay $15 to $20 an hour to start. Our educational training programs need to become faster and less costly. The days of people loading up on school debt or training debt are gone. A faster and more affordable job training process needs to be developed.
  3. Re-balancing the social service security net. Our safety net for working adults in the United States is an all or nothing proposition. As soon as a person reaches full employment, all benefits are lost. The biggest challenge in the workplace is childcare. When a person is in a government training program, child care is paid for by the government program. Once a person becomes employed, the child care support is gone. As a society, we need to re-visit how we provide and pay for childcare for working parents.
  4. Regional markets are important. Last week, I wrote about how we are at a low point in geographical mobility. Twenty to 30 years ago, people were willing to move for job opportunities; not so much today. Regional development and opportunities can provide a modified version of geographic mobility. People seem to be willing to commute for jobs, as long as they can stay in a region close to family.

The problems did not happen overnight and the solutions will take some time to make a change. Our challenge is to recognize that what worked 40 or 50 years ago no longer works today. We have to be willing to be creative and flexible and to do things differently. Failure and setbacks are part of the equation.

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As Featured in the Monitor August 13, 2017