Tag Archives: unemployment

The Changing American Jobs Landscape and What It Might Mean for Men

The Atlantic Monthly has a fascinating look at how the jobs picture has changed in America since 1977. Why that date? Because that’s the last time our labor-participation rates were as low as they are today. From the article:

A couple things jump out here: Even though the labor-participation rate is almost as low now as it was then, the workforce has grown faster than the population (which was 220 million then and is around 319 million now). The big jump is in the number of women employed—from 36.5 million in October 1977 to 54.1 now. Male employment has also climbed, but not as much. So as the female labor-force participation rate has climbed, the male rate has dropped, from eight in 10 to barely seven in 10 men working full time. And whereas the male unemployment rate was much lower in 1977, now there’s gender parity.

Even as the gender balance has shifted, it’s noticeable that the racial balance hasn’t. Now, as in 1977, the black unemployment rate is much higher than the national rate, and lags far behind white unemployment.

This isn’t all just evidence of a bad economy—much of the decline comes from Baby Boomers reaching retirement age and checking out, though some of it comes from would-be workers who simply can’t find work, and millions more Americans are underemployed. That isn’t without challenges: An aging population could draw more in benefits than the government collects in social-security taxes. Massive spending on health care for older Americans could be a drag, too.

There’s more to read at the site, in particular what Americans were doing for work back then versus today, but I find the role of women in the workforce to be most interesting. With more women now graduating college than men how many households of the future will see a reverse of the traditional roles of breadwinner (men) versus secondary income/homemaker (women)? We’ve already seen a huge shift in household composition away from the traditional roles  – more dual income homes, single parent homes, women as primary breadwinners, etc. – but it seems clear that the shift will continue over the next generation. What will the impact be on our society?

We’ve already lived through a generation of women struggling to balance work and home life, to face the never-ending tension of career versus kids, but we’re about to be confronted with men having to confront a similar situation over the next generation. The reality that men’s traditional role as primary breadwinners or “heads of household”, at least according to our societal norms, is beginning to dawn on America. Over the next generation the big question is going to be how men will handle being the secondary earner and likely primary caregiver to their children? How will society, especially other men, react to them and treat them when they do? I suspect they will go through many tumultuous days trying to find the right balance, just as many women have for years, and it’s often going to be ugly. Can they do it? You bet, but it’s going to be a painful process as they learn to do it.

This Planet Money post also highlights what’s going on:

The share of marriages where women work full time but men don’t is highest for low-income families.

The story here has as much to do with the decline of working men as it does the progress of women in the economy. In just the 10 years between 2000 and 2010, the manufacturing sector lost an astounding 5 million jobs. Since manufacturing jobs historically have been held predominantly by men, this left lots of men out of work. Women, on the other hand, have benefited from the employment boom in the service sector, which employs more women than men.

High-income families are much more likely than average to have both spouses working full time. The message is pretty clear: It’s pretty hard to be rich with only one income.


Is a lack of demand for skilled labor contributing to America's stubbornly high unemployment rate?

What explains the current low rate of employment in the U.S.? While there has substantial debate over this question in recent years, we believe that considerable added insight can be derived by focusing on changes in the labour market at the turn of the century. In particular, we argue that in about the year 2000, the demand for skill (or, more specifically, for cognitive tasks often associated with high educational skill) underwent a reversal. Many researchers have documented a strong, ongoing increase in the demand for skills in the decades leading up to 2000. In this paper, we document a decline in that demand in the years since 2000, even as the supply of high education workers continues to grow. We go on to show that, in response to this demand reversal, high-skilled workers have moved down the occupational ladder and have begun to perform jobs traditionally performed by lower-skilled workers. This de-skilling process, in turn, results in high-skilled workers pushing low-skilled workers even further down the occupational ladder and, to some degree, out of the labor force all together. In order to understand these patterns, we offer a simple extension to the standard skill biased technical change model that views cognitive tasks as a stock rather than a flow. We show how such a model can explain the trends in the data that we present, and offers a novel interpretation of the current employment situation in the U.S.

Kicked When They’re Down

While the banks might have abandoned their plans, for now, to start charging debit card fees they do have one group they're hitting with fees – the unemployed:

Bank of America recently aborted plans to charge ordinary banking customers $5 a month to use their debit cards in the face of national outrage. But the bank has quietly continued to mine another source of fees: jobless people who depend upon the bank's prepaid debit cards to tap their benefits. Bank of America and other financial firms — including U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase — have secured contracts to provide access to public benefits in 41 states. These contracts typically allow banks to collect unlimited fees from merchants and consumers.

In short, the same banks whose speculation delivered a financial crisis that has destroyed millions of jobs have figured out how to turn widespread unemployment into a profit center: The larger the number of people who are out of work and dependent upon the state for sustenance, the greater the potential gains through administering their benefits.



“It’s as if Joseph Mengele was reborn as an economist”

Found via Fec's The Perversity of Fiscal Austerity post:

The collective embrace of fiscal austerity has gone beyond perverse. It’s as if Josef Mengele was reborn as an economist, working on some weird new social experiment to inflict the maximum amount of damage on the maximum amount of people.

The piece at New Economic Perspectives from whence the preceding quote came is titled "It's Time to Panic II."