What you see here is a half-century-long decline in the portion of working-age men who are actually working. Why?
Jason Furman, who served as Barack Obama’s top economic adviser in the recent, less insane days of American history, tackles the slow fade of the working-age male in a presentation for the think tank where he now works. He notes that the supply of labor is still steady, but wages for these men—particularly for those without a college education—have fallen drastically over the past 40 years, indicating a weaker demand. He posits three basic explanations:
- Our enormous rise in incarceration of these men, a factor that also includes the millions of formerly incarcerated men who have trouble getting jobs once they’re free;
- Our nation’s miserable record in making our labor markets “supportive”—meaning our lack of paid parental leave, low-cost child care, strong sick leave policies, and other aspects of the government-supported social safety net that makes workers’ lives easier; and,
- A decline in labor market fluidity, meaning workers are less likely to move around and switch jobs to improve the labor market’s performance.
How can we solve this 50-year-long seemingly intractable problem? By doing all of the things that we’ve know that we should be doing since the New Deal: provide good public jobs, stronger unions, progressive taxation, a social safety net for the unemployed, child care, and affordable housing.
If only there were a major political party that would pursue these reforms.