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Men Not at Work: Brookings Adds to ‘Mancession’ Worries

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A Washington think tank looking at long-term employment trends added discouraging data about reduced earning power for men in America. Brookings scholar Adam Looney notes, in discussing what some have dubbed a “mancession,” that 1 out of 5 prime-age men are out of work today compared to the previous generation when the figure was about less than 1 in 10.

Using 1969 as a baseline, Looney–interviewed in a newly released Brookings podcast–says that today’s man earns 28% less than his counterpart in 1969. Men are likely to cite as reasons for nonemployment an inability to find work, a physical disability or incarceration. “Those are all largely involuntary reasons for unemployment,” Looney says.

Another finding cited by the Brookings scholar is that the premium a college degree confers on workers has increased enormously. “A college grad earns roughly double what an individual with only a high school diploma earns,” says Looney, who recently compared 23-24-year-olds–some with college degrees and others high school graduates. While the college graduates have struggled to find quality jobs in the midst of the recent recession, “almost 90 percent of them have found jobs.” Of those with just a high school diploma, 1 in 3 can’t find a job.

Looney says opportunities in the job market have been affected by changing patterns in trade and advances in technology. Whereas 40 years ago, 96% of men with a high school diploma were able to find high-paying manufacturing jobs, technology has reduced the need employers have for higher skilled workers; low-skilled jobs have moved overseas.

“The same labor market forces are also at work broadly speaking for women.… But these negative trends have largely been overcome by the much more positive trends of rising labor force participation, rising rates of educational attainment, better access to good jobs and higher paying jobs,” Looney says. He adds that over the last 35 years, the earnings of families have increased 13% as the number of hours worked have increased, which he attributes to increased participation of women in the labor market.

“We should send more people to college,” says Looney, who also recommends improved K-12 education, and efforts to increase high school completion.

The Brookings scholar’s findings about stagnant wages and rising unemployment for men will likely add fuel to debate about what some have termed a “mancession”–a weak economy that has more adversely affected men over women.

A study released one month ago by the Pew Research Center fueled much of that debate recently. The study found that far more men have gained employment since the recession ended in 2009, which many commentators have dubbed a “hecovery” or “mancovery.” But Pew found that gains men have made in the recovery have not nearly made up for losses in the recession.

The Pew report stated: ”Although the latest trends in employment are working in favor of men, the full period of the recession and the recovery has set men back more than women. From December 2007 to May 2011, the employment of men has decreased from 70.7 million to 66.1 million, or by 4.6 million. For women, employment has fallen from 67.3 million to 64.9 million, or by 2.4 million. Thus, while men have taken an early lead in the recovery, they still have far more ground to cover than women to return to pre-recession employment levels.”


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