guys (still) kick ass – part 1

One in five men are not out of work

Rosin said in the NPR debate, “Now, how are men doing these days? They’re doing very, very badly. … Right now, one in five men are out of work, which is the highest percentage that’s ever existed.”

That does sound apocalyptic, right? I half-expect hordes of unemployed men to start setting up tent cities in parks across America! (Oh… wait).

But the way she said it is misleading. What Rosin wrote in “The End of Men” is actually right: “In 1950, roughly one in 20 men of prime working age, like Henderson, was not working; today that ratio is about one in five, the highest ever recorded.”

There’s a difference, obviously, between being “out of work” and not working. My 34-year-old brother would count as one of those men not working — that’s because he’s going to law school at the University of Chicago, with a job already lined up for the summer at a prestigious San Francisco firm. But technically, right now he is one of those men of prime working age who isn’t “working.”

Let’s look at how Rosin came up with this statistic. In January 2010 the employment-to-population ratio for (civilian, noninstitutionalized) men aged 25 to 54 hit a seasonally adjusted low of 80.4 percent, according to BLS. That is indeed the lowest it’s ever been since figures were kept in 1948, when the rate was 94.1 percent.

As you can see, dudes were hammered in the recession — but are starting to bounce back a little. In January, 82.6 percent of guys 25-54 were working, although that’s still a good way off the 86-88 percent levels found around 2001-05.

The percentage of women working, meanwhile, has been falling slightly for the past decade.

In 1948 just 33.7 percent of women 25-54 worked outside the home. That number rose gradually over the years, peaking at 74.2 percent in 2000. But then it started dipping — to 71.8 by ’04, actually rose during the recession (72.5 percent in ’07), but has now been falling again. In January, 68.8 of women aged 25 to 54 worked outside the home — the same proportion that were back in 1988.

It’s worth noting, though, that of the 7 million men and 15.6 million women aged 25-54 and classified as “not in the labor pool,” only 1 million men and 1.5 million women say they want a job. (These were people who weren’t actively searching for one, though. There were another 4.2 million men and 3.8 million women who were classified as unemployed, meaning they had made some effort to find a job in the last four weeks).

Some of these not-working guys were, like my brother, going to school, or enjoying early retirement, or taking care of their children. (Isn’t that last what feminists wanted — more dudes to be house-husbands?).

Here’s a snapshot of what the 61.6 million men and 63.1 women aged 25-54 in the U.S. were up to in September 2011:


Here’s the same data except for the folks that were working, so you can more easily see the other numbers:

(These figures don’t quite add up — I ended up with 639,302 “extra” men and 665,413 “extra” women among the ranks of the not-employed. I think some of the retirees and disabled people are being counted twice, which makes a certain amount of sense: someone can be a disabled homemaker, for example).

As you can see, aside from the the women taking care of their family responsibilities, there’s not a huge gender gap in any of these numbers.

Here’s a graph looking at all the percentage of 25- to 54-year-olds who were either working, or say they weren’t working because they were in school or “taking care of house or family.” (That is how the BLS groups people – folks that are taking time off from the labor force to reinstall their vinyl siding get placed in the same category as full-time parents, for whatever reason). (Also, note that these numbers only go back until 1994).

Aside from the last few years of the recession, there’s not much gender difference, is there? Basically from 1994 through 2008, about 90 percent of both men and women aged 25-54 were either working, in school or raising kids. That changed with millions of men thrown out of work with the recession, but here’s to hoping the economy rights itself in the next year or two.

Just to be clear, it’s not that sociologists, urban planners and politicians shouldn’t be concerned about the unemployed, the rise in disability cases or people being layabouts. But the implication that dudes make up more of the “idle unemployed” than women — perhaps popularized by this New York Times article — is not really supported by the evidence, or at least by this statistic.

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