Ending high male unemployment means thinking in new ways about education, global trade and the meaning of success.
In an economy booming by the traditional measures of surging stock values and rock-bottom unemployment, a key indicator continues to flash red: 18% of men aged 25 to 54 don’t have full-time work. That’s a vast improvement over the 25% who were idle or working only part-time in 2010. But by pre-Great Recession standards, the present resembles the bottom of a downturn, underperforming the worst points in either the 1990-91 or 2001 recessions.
Men without work harm themselves, their families and society broadly. The unemployed experience substantially worse health and lower life satisfaction, and they face diminished future economic prospects. They are more likely to use drugs and commit crime. For men especially, unemployment raises dramatically the likelihood of divorce and reduces the likelihood of family formation in the first place.
A recent paper in the American Economic Review found that, from 1990 to 2014, regions facing greater competition from imports not only lost more jobs than other regions but also saw serious effects in the “marriage market.” As the authors summarized, such economic shocks “heighten male idleness and premature mortality, and raise the share of mothers who are unwed and the share of children living in below-poverty, single-headed households.”