Sunday, February 9, 2014

Still lots of prime age men without jobs

Last week's WSJ has a long front page story on a trend that needs to be getting more attention: the steady decline in the percentage of 25 to 54 year old men who are jobless.  Here are the facts: in the early 1970s only 6% were jobless, a percentage that increased to 13% in 2007 just before the Great Recession.  The jobless rate peaked at 20% in 2009 and now sits at 17%.

There are a few partial explanations: more students attending graduate school, a higher incarceration rate and a larger percentage on disability (although the direction of causality on the latter is far from clear; are more people getting sick or injured or have disability claims have risen because of poor job prospects?).  Another possible culprit is declining inflation-adjusted wages.  Prime age men do not usually qualify for income maintenance programs other than disability.

So what to these idle men do all day?
Surveys find that most of the jobless spend their days in the same way working men spend their weekends -- watching TV, working out, sleeping.  
The story then goes in depth into the situations of four different men.  In each case there is a common thread: initially in a job that is a good fit with their training and experience, each experienced a layoff over the last few years and was unable to get any traction in the job market afterwards.

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