Rising Male Non-Employment: Supply, not Demand
By Bryan Caplan
My friend and coauthor Larry Summers touched on
this a year and a bit ago when he was here giving the Wildavski lecture. He was
talking about the extraordinary decline in American labor force participation
even among prime-aged males-that a surprisingly large chunk of our male
population is now in the position where there is nothing that people can think
of for them to do that is useful enough to cover the costs of making sure that
they actually do it correctly, and don’t break the stuff and subtract value when
they are supposed to be adding to it.
Each year, the bureau asks
jobless Americans why it is they’ve been out of work. And
traditionally, a only a small percentage of impoverished adults actually
say it’s because they can’t find employment, a point that New York
University professor Lawrence Mead, one of the intellectual architects
of welfare reform, made to Congress in recent testimony.
In 2007, for instance, 6.4 percent of adults who lived under the
poverty line and didn’t work in the past year said it was because
they couldn’t find a job. As of 2012, the figure had more than doubled
to a still-small 13.5 percent. By comparison, more than a quarter said
they stayed home for family reasons and more than 30 percent cited a
Poor men are admittedly more likely than poor women to say they don’t work because they can’t find a job. Yet only 20% of men below the poverty line in 2012 said this. This is a far cry from explaining steadily rising male non-employment year in, year out. While I am very open to concerns about involuntary unemployment, the long-term story really does seem to be that most non-employed men (a) produce output worth more than the minimum wage, but (b) prefer idleness to their market wage.