The Missing Men

Instructor: Tyler Cowen, George Mason University

We’re going to paint a not-so-pretty picture of the current U.S. labor force: Millions of working age (25-54) American men do not have jobs and, because they are not actively seeking work, do not count towards our primary unemployment statistic. Many of these men are living at home with their parents. They are not attending school. They are not stay-at-home dads. In fact, much of their time is going towards leisure activities such as watching television and playing video games. Almost half are on painkillers.

To be clear, this picture does not apply to every working age male without current employment, but it is accurate for a disturbingly high percentage.

If we look specifically at men without a college degree and job who are in their twenties, we find that in 2000, less than 10% had not worked at all in the past year. 15 years later, that number had more than doubled to 22%.

As of 2015, an estimated 5.5 million prime-age men (25-54) were neither working nor enrolled in school – the equivalent of the combined populations of Dallas, Philadelphia, and Chicago. It’s a worrisome trend for the economy and there’s no clear-cut answer as to why it’s happening.

Up next, we’ll discuss the possible “great reset” on the United States’ economic horizon and whether the missing men phenomenon could be a driving force.

Teacher Resources

Transcript

There's a problem in the American economy and it's that not enough men are working. To help understand this, let's go back a bit in history. Let's go back, say, to 1969. Then, you've just seen the first man walk on the moon, maybe the most famous rock concert of all time, and, perhaps you didn't know it, but the foundations of the internet were just starting to come alive. And that's just 1969. In previous decades, your earnings would have been steadily going up and the world around you, changing and progressing, rapidly. Now, imagine being told that the median wage for men would not progress past the point where it was in 1969. In fact, as measured in inflation-adjusted terms, the male median wage was going to fall. Outside of a catastrophe, like nuclear war, you probably wouldn't have thought that's possible. But it's true. In 1969, the median wage for American men was higher than today – again, adjusting for inflation. Now does that mean the actual standard of living  for the average male hasn't improved for nearly 50 years? Well, almost certainly not. The median wage numbers have some issues. However, the fact that the measured numbers even come out the way they do – that tells you a lot about how progress and wage growth have been slowing down. Let's take prime-age working men – aged 25 to 54 – and those are ages when, historically, most men have been working. Higher and higher percentages of these prime-age working men simply are going missing from the American economy today. These men don't have a job and very often, they're not even looking for one. And, of course, if they're not even looking, they don't even count in our statistics as being unemployed. The whole problem gets worse yet when you look only at those men in their 20s, who don't have a college degree. In the year 2000, under 10% of those men hadn't worked at all in the previous year.

Fast forward 15 years, and this is much worse! That number has doubled. So, it's 22% of those men who have not worked at all in the previous year. In the broader picture of American history, this is startling and, indeed, disturbing. Some of the most famous American men, started penniless and worked their ways up. The rags-to-riches story is as American as apple pie. But these days it seems to be less relevant in some ways. But wait, wait, you say. Maybe it's that more of these men are just in school and that's fine. But remember, these numbers are for workers aged 25 and older, and that's past when those without a bachelor's degree typically would be in school. And even if we take into account school enrollment, we still see this trend toward more and more of these missing men. As of 2015, the estimate is 5.5 million prime-age men were neither working nor going to school. That's the equivalent of all of Chicago, Philadelphia, and Dallas, combined. What about stay-at-home dads? Maybe that explains it? Sadly not. Time-use data showed that these missing men are not filling their time, caring for loved ones. Rather, they're spending dramatically more time on their own leisure - especially, television and video games. According to one recent study, almost half of these men are on painkillers. It's not that the painkillers put them out of work, but you can take that as a reflection that they're facing a more troubled or more difficult environment, in some ways. And more and more of these men – they're living at home with their parents. Now, will these missing men be a driving force for our next crisis? What I call "The Great Reset"? That's the topic we turn to next.

Next up, Tyler explains what form of catastrophe might be coming, and whether anything can be done to avoid it. Click "Next Video" to understand The Great Reset. Still here? Check out Marginal Revolution University's other popular videos.


 

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