There Are Still a Lot of Men Without Jobs
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The prime-age employment-population ratio, that most straightforward of job market measures, hit a new post-recession high of 79.5 percent in the U.S. in July, according to today’s jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This means that of Americans ages 25 to 54 who aren’t uniformed military service members or behind bars, 79.5 percent have jobs. The advantage of this metric over the oft-maligned unemployment rate (3.9 percent in July) is that it includes those who aren’t actively looking for jobs.
So anyway, 79.5 percent is a big improvement over a few years ago. It’s not breaking any records, though.
The U.S. employment-population ratio, which was among the highest in the world in the late 1990s and early 2000s but lost a lot of relative ground after that, also continues to lag that of other major developed economies.
For prime-age women, the employment-population ratio is back to its peak from the previous business cycle, and within 2 percentage points of its all-time high in March 2000. Given that most women who aren’t formally in the labor force report that home responsibilities are what’s keeping them out (that is, they are working; they’re just not getting paid), one has to wonder just how much higher the women’s employment rate can go during this expansion. The example of the Scandinavian countries, where ambitious gender-equality efforts and generous provisions for child care have led to the highest female employment rates in the world, suggests that policy changes could push the rate significantly higher, but there’s no indication that such policy changes will be coming soon in the U.S.
For U.S. prime-age men, meanwhile, the employment-population ratio is still almost 2 percentage points below its peak from the last business cycle, and nearly 10 points below its all-time high (the data series goes back to 1948) in March 1953. Countless studies have addressed the possible causes of this disappearance of prime-age men from the workforce, and I’m not going to go into them here. It just seems worth noting that, even with the unemployment rate dipping to levels last seen on a sustained basis in the 1960s, there are still a lot of prime-age men out there without jobs (8.6 million in total, according to the BLS) who could conceivably be put to work.
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Justin Fox is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering business. He was the editorial director of Harvard Business Review and wrote for Time, Fortune and American Banker. He is the author of “The Myth of the Rational Market.”
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