The decline of men in the American workforce

The Economist examines some recent figures showing that men, particularly less-skilled workers, have lower levels of participation in the labor force:

The decline of the working American man has been most marked among the less educated and blacks. If you adjust official data to include men in prison or the armed forces (who are left out of the raw numbers), around 35% of 25- to 54-year-old men with no high-school diploma have no job, up from around 10% in the 1960s. Of those who finished high school but did not go to college, the fraction without work has climbed from below 5% in the 1960s to almost 25% (see chart 2). Among blacks, more than 30% overall and almost 70% of high-school dropouts have no job…

The main reason why fewer men are working is that sweeping structural changes in rich economies have reduced the demand for all less-skilled workers. Manufacturing has declined as a share of GDP, and productivity growth has enabled factories to produce more with fewer people. Technological advances require higher skills. For the low-skilled, low demand has meant lower wages, both relative and absolute. This in turn reduces the incentive to find a job, especially if disability payments or a working spouse provide an income.

Men have been hit harder than women by these shifts. They are likelier to work in manufacturing; women have been better represented in sectors, such as health care and education, where most job growth has taken place. Women have also done more than men to improve their academic credentials: in most rich countries they are likelier than men to go to university.

There is a lot to think about here. One reason that the article cites for this trend is the numbers of women (compared to men) who are getting college degrees. This has been noted by others (with some interesting data from the White House here) and it really does seem to be a sizable shift in American society.

A few other questions come to mind:

1. Could politicians promote policies that specifically target less-skilled male workers?

2. What are some of the broader consequences of this trend, such as the impact on community life or family life?

3. How could schools, particularly high schools and colleges, tackle this issue?

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