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Five Million Men Are Still Missing From the U.S. Workforce

There are still five million men missing. Workforce in the United States
Although prime-age employment has returned to pre-pandemic levels, it is still much below that of previous decades.

Following the wild ride of the past couple of years, employment among Americans in their prime working years, commonly defined as those aged 25 to 54, is approaching pre-pandemic levels. However, by historical standards, 86.1% of prime-age men held jobs in March, compared to 86.5% in February 2020, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. The prime-age male employment rate averaged 93.8% in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, 4.9 million more men would be employed if it were that high.

Approximately three-quarters of today’s unemployed prime-age men are not in the labor force, which means they are not actively looking for job. Some are in school, and others are taking care of children, but the majority appear to be out of work for less benign reasons that researchers spent a lot of time trying to figure out in the 2010s. The explanations were divided into three categories: For instance, work options for the less educated and the growing number of formerly imprisoned males (those still behind bars aren’t counted in labor statistics) are decreasing. Second, health issues, such as the opioid crisis, have taken their toll.

Employers are desperate for labor these days, especially individuals without a college diploma. This could result in a shift in perspective. Sure, the nearly 5 million missing working males represent a societal problem, but they also represent a great untapped resource.

Not looking

In March, the share of men aged 25 to 54 who did not have a job but were actively looking for one was just 2.9%, significantly below the long-run average of 4.4% (since 1948).

Sick days

In 2020 (2021 figures aren’t yet available), 5.2% of prime-age American men reported being out of the work force due to illness or disability, up from 3.5% in 1991.

Women have a different story to tell

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment rate for prime-age women in the United States was 74.1% in March, not far off the all-time high of 74.9% established in April 2000.

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