Too few men... are returning to work in a decades-long puzzle about prime working-age males ages 25 to 54 falling away from the U.S. labor force. Their participation rate slid to 88.4 percent in August in a steady decline from 97.9 percent in 1954. Over the last 10 years, the slump was the steepest for those ages 25 to 34.
About 7 million male Americans waste their best years of wealth formation not employed or even trying to find work. The pattern will persist, economists say, putting some men -- particularly those without a college degree -- at risk of permanent isolation from the job market.
The pace of decline was among the fastest during the last two contractions and the drop has continued in the current expansion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from Labor Department reports. This shows the labor-market recovery isn't strong enough for some men to find jobs or even continue looking.
A key reason is the change in labor demand: the gradual disappearance of construction and manufacturing positions, especially those demanding relatively few skills, such as furniture, shoe or leather-goods making, said David Autor, professor of economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
"The trend will remain downward," Autor said in a phone interview. "I don't see any recovery for low-skilled labor demand coming. There's never going to be a great time in America again to be a high-school dropout."
A fall in inflation-adjusted earnings for less-educated men, more stay-at-home dads and a surge in the number of veterans with military-service disability benefits also contribute to the decline, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics economist Steve Hipple.
The number of veterans receiving such assistance rose 42 percent to 3.7 million in 2013 from 2.6 million in 2005, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs data show. About 40 percent were 54 years old or younger, and about 89 percent were men.
Inflation-adjusted earnings fell 5.4 percent between 2007 and 2013 for men ages 25 and older who have a high-school education, according to the BLS data. For those with less schooling, wages dropped 7.4 percent.
Still, the lure of a paycheck can be enough to encourage some young men not to pursue higher education, said Anthony P. Carnevale, director and research professor of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce in Washington.
"They can still get a job that pays enough for them to move out of their parents' house and get a car," he said. "But it's seductive, because by the time they are in their mid-thirties, they're not really improving their earnings anymore."
National Jobs for All Coalition
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