Men Participating in Labor Force at Dramatically Lower Rates

By: Daniel Steingold | June 20, 2016

A new study released by the White House has found that American working-age males— defined as those between the ages of 25 and 54— are participating in the labor force at progressively lesser rates.

In 1954, labor force participation amongst this demographic was at a lofty 97.9 percent. Now, it hovers at around 88 percent, with many groups experiencing even worse rates of participation.

For example, only 83 percent of those with a high school diploma are active in the labor force. The study also showed that African American males see lower rates of labor participation.

One easy explanation for this trend would be that men in this demographic decide to take an early retirement, return to school, or provide as caretakers. There are a number of signs that point to this not being quite as plausible.

First of all, less than a quarter of working-age men who aren’t in the workforce have a working spouse. This eliminates the idea of being a caretaker. Additionally, the White House’s study showed that more than one-third of men not in the workforce lived in poverty.

It is believed that reductions in labor demand, which has particularly affected those in unskilled positions, has caused this phenomenon. Rises in incarceration rates and decreases in terms of educational attainment between men and women are also suspected to have made an impact.

On a final note, it is important to note that labor force participation is not in itself a measure of unemployment, although it does largely figure into the calculation of unemployment.

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