If you’re an American man you’re more likely to be unemployed than your female counterparts. Today more than 4.3 million Americans are considered “long-term unemployed” — out of work for more than 27 weeks. Fifty-six percent of them are men. The Great Recession emasculated generations of men, displacing many of them from the labor force and undermining their financial security. The effects may be felt for decades.
But does that mean the end of men and the rise of women, as author Hanna Rosin has suggested? Not quite. Male unemployment hasn’t come at the expense of women’s success; it reflects deeper structural changes felt by everyone. Technology and globalization has rendered many better-paying jobs, traditionally held by men, obsolete. Both men and women have the potential to thrive, but in order for that to happen we need policy that complements the modern labor market — rather than hold it back.
Even before the 2008 recession, male labor force participation had been declining while more women went to work. This trend was heightened early in the recession because men experienced the brunt of unemployment, losing jobs in male-dominated industries like construction and manufacturing. These jobs disappear more rapidly during recessions, when weaker firms need to shed workers.
But as the recession wore on, more unemployed men found jobs or left the workforce, and the male/female unemployment rates almost equalized. Today, male unemployment is only slightly higher than it is for women, although the lower unemployment rate masks the fact that many men, especially men older than 55, left the labor force because they couldn’t find work. The unemployment rate also doesn’t tell us how many men took lower paid or part-time jobs because they couldn’t find anything else.
What happened to men’s jobs during the recession reflects a long-term trend of middle-skill jobs, in industries like manufacturing, disappearing from the economy. They don’t come back as the economy recovers, which explains, in part, why unemployment persisted as the economy recovered.