Working-Age Men Aren’t Working as Much Anymore

By: Krystal Etienne · May 07, 2024 · Reading Time: 3 minutes

In the 1950s, 96% of working-age men in the United States had a job. Today, that figure has since slumped to just 86%. The factors influencing this trend are unclear and likely multifaceted, but one thing is certain: it has major implications for the economy.

Shifting Tides

There’s one very positive reason why fewer men are working: more women are. Roughly three-quarters (76%) of working-age women hold jobs today, up significantly from less than 37% in 1950. With more talent competing for open positions, it’s no wonder men are no longer working near-uniformly. The shifting social tides may have also encouraged many men to take on roles far less common decades ago, like being a stay-at-home dad.

But less encouraging forces may be at play as well. Globalization has driven many jobs overseas as companies seek cheaper labor, especially in the manufacturing sector. Meanwhile, the federal minimum wage has remained stagnant for over a decade. Other contributing factors may be rising incarceration rates, declining military opportunities, the opioid epidemic, and even early retirements.

Perhaps the most prominent drivers of this trend are recessions. Among many negative effects, recessions have historically driven a percentage of men from the workforce permanently. In the 1953 recession, the working-age male workforce shrunk by around 2%. Then, following the Global Economic Crisis in 2008, it fell from over 87% to 80.6%, and has yet to rebound fully.

Recession Reaction

As recessions dampen career prospects and keep more men from the workforce, many look for alternative ways to support themselves. In 2022, roughly 1.3 million working-age men collected Social Security disability benefits. The constant loss of opportunities and an inability to find new employment is often what drives men to claim disability benefits. Well over a third (40%) of unemployed working-age men pointed specifically to disability or illness as the reason they aren’t employed.

A greater share of unemployed men isn’t just a problem for the financial health of those affected. It can also worsen their mental health. From a birds-eye-view, lower labor force participation typically weighs on economic growth, government assistance, and tax revenue, too.

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