Lance Kenworthy and the Declining Employment Status of Men
Lance Kenworthy has written a two-part essay appearing in Foreign Affairs (Part 1; Part 2) discussing the argument that the employment prospects for prime working-age men (age 25-54) have deteriorated. His Figure 1 shows a decline in the employment-population ratio for men age 25-54 from about 94% in 1950 to about 85% in 2016. (Over the same time period, the employment-population ratio for women rose from about 33% to about 71%; overall, the employment-population ratio has increased from about 63% to about 78%.) In general, his discussion of factors proposed as causes specifically for the decline in men's employment-population ratio is reasonably comprehensive (he leaves out one major factor, of which more below) and quite good.
But this discussion is only partial, and, when it touches on differences between with and black men, does not deal with those differences in depth. Below is a chart showing the employment-population ratios for white and black men, ages 25-54; unfortunately, the available data go back only to 1994. What this chart shows is something that one would not expect, based on Kenworthy's discussion (all data from the BLS web site):
If anything represents a problem here, it is not that the employment population ratio for prime-age men has continued to fall; it is that the recovery of employment since the trough of the recession has been so slow. If there is an issue to discuss with men's employment, it is the contrast, during the same period, with women's employment-population ratios (also for blacks and whites, age 25-54:
The policy challenge, then, might be something quite different from what Kenworthy focuses on (especially in part 2 of his discussion)--what needs to be done--or, perhaps, what should have been done during the recovery from 2009 to 2017--that would move men's employment prospects back to their pre-recession levels. The number of jobs involved is large--about 1.860 million (3.9%) more jobs for prime-age white men, and 0.450 million (3.1%) more jobs for prime-age black men.
An economy that had generated 2.3 million more jobs by February 2017 would look very different from the economy that we actually have.