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Men not adjusting to economic realities

As we recently explored the decline in 25-54 year old males labor force participation is a growing and serious problem. An excellent report from the President’s Council of Economic Advisors provides an overview of the challenge. That report shows that the decline started a half century ago. That it is occurring at all ages. That it is occurring almost exclusively for those with a high school degree or less. And that it is not caused by a more generous safety net.

In a New York Times column two Brookings Institution scholars, Richard Reeves and Isabel Sawhill, posit that a prime cause of the problem may be the unwillingness of men to do work that has historically been viewed as women’s work. They write:

… We have not pushed hard enough to put men in traditionally female roles — that is where our priority should lie now. This is not just about gender equality. The stakes are even higher. The jobs that many men used to do are gone or going fast, and families need two engaged parents to share the task of raising children.

As painful as it may be, men need to adapt to what a modern economy and family life demand. There has been progress in recent years, but it hasn’t been equal to the depth and urgency of the transformation we’re undergoing. The old economy and the old model of masculinity are obsolete. Women have learned to become more like men. Now men need to learn to become more like women.

… The male malaise starts in the classroom. Girls have overtaken boys at every stage of education, with higher grades from the early years through high school and college. Men are now a minority on college campuses, accounting for 42 percent of graduates.

… Lately, there has been a laudable push to get girls and women into jobs that require STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and math). But it is equally important to train and encourage men to take jobs that require skills in health, education, administration and literacy, so-called HEAL jobs.

Right now, HEAL jobs are dominated by women. Men make up 20 percent of elementary and middle-school teachers, 9 percent of nurses, 16 percent of personal care aides and 6 percent of personal assistants.

Until men seize opportunities in these “pink collar” sectors, they will continue to lose out in this dynamic area of the labor market. Women currently dominate the sectors expected to produce the most jobs. Unless the gender imbalance in the 30 fastest-growing occupations changes, women will take up a million jobs that would otherwise have gone to men.

Just as we explored in my Kasich on economic realities post, Reeves and Sawhill start with an understanding that traditional male dominated blue collar jobs are not coming back. Manufacturing employment is now below ten percent of American jobs and almost certainly will continue to lose share. Transportation and warehousing jobs are prime candidates for automation. And construction work is not growing.

So for lots of men to work they are going to have to adjust to the new reality that most jobs are in services. Many in health care and education broadly defined. And the high paid work will primarily be in professional and managerial occupations that almost always require a four year degree or more.

Change is hard. But this is one of those times when holding on to the old path––rather than aligning with new realities––is now a recipe for economic decline.

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Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.

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