Almost one-third of all working-age men in America aren’t doing diddly-squat. They don’t have a job, and they aren’t looking for one either. One-third of all working-age men. That’s almost 30 million people!
How do they live? What are they doing for money? To me, this is one of the great mysteries of our time.
I’m certainly not the first person to make note of this shocking statistic. You’ve heard people bemoaning this “labor participation rate,” which is simply the number of working-age men (usually counted as ages 16 to 64) not working or not looking for work, as a percentage of the overall labor force.
It’s true that the pandemic, which of course produced a number of factors that made working more difficult never mind dangerous, pushed the labor participation rate to a record low. But the fact that millions of American males have not been working precedes COVID-19 by decades. In fact, the participation rate for men peaked at 87.4% in October 1949 and has been dropping steadily ever since. It now stands at 67.7%.
As a business journalist for a good portion of those 70-plus years, I’ve looked at thousands of charts and graphs in my life, and I have to say this one is as jaw dropping as it is vexing:
Economists, sociologists, politicians, and cable news pundits each have their pet factors to explain the groundswell of non-work. But after digging down here, I’ve concluded there are many different forces at play. That’s what I want to explore today, which is: how men can live in America without working.
I’m not talking about why men have lost their jobs — factories closing, layoffs, automation, outsourcing jobs overseas, even perhaps women entering the workforce, (in fact, the participation rate by women over the same time period is way up). What I want to get at is how they’re living without holding a “real” job, and by that I mean doing work where one reports income to the IRS, pays taxes and Social Security, etc.
It’s important to note that every man in this group has his own story. They range from mentally ill homeless men who desperately need our help, to the I’m-doing-just-fine-thank-you-very-much, retired early, and former Silicon Valley coder. And there are infinite scenarios in between those two extremes.
It’s also the case that some men in this group may be unemployed and not seeking work because they’ve given up looking just for now — perhaps waiting for COVID to abate — and will start the…
Read More: 7 ways men live without working in America