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Millennial men are disappearing from the workforce

While other demographic groups are working at higher rates, millennial men are not, and it’s putting a generation of workers at risk.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Where have all the millennial men gone?

That’s not just a bastardization of a classic Pete Seeger lyric; it’s a legitimate question. Because apparently, they’re not in the workforce.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, millennial males have dropped out of the U.S. workforce more rapidly than any other age and gender demographic. Fully 500,000 more men aged 25 to 34 would be working now if, like women and some other groups, their participation had returned to pre-recession levels or better.

“The absence of young men, long among the privileged working class, will result in broader economic consequences.”

What’s potentially at risk is a lost generation of young, male workers. It’s especially perplexing because the labor market is hot and other demographic groups, including millennial women, are working at higher rates.

David Dorn, an economist at the University of Zurich, told Bloomberg, “If you get to the point where you’re turning 30, you’ve never held a real job, and you don’t have a college education, then it is very hard to recover at that point.”

That’s the real fear, that the absence of young men, long among the privileged working class, will result in broader economic consequences.

According to that same Bloomberg report: “It marks a loss of human talent that dents potential growth. Young people who get a rocky start in the job market face a lasting pay penalty, and economists partly blame the decline in employed, marriageable men for the recent slide in nuptials and increase in out-of-wedlock births. Those trends foster economic insecurity among families, which could worsen outcomes for the next generation.”

So, what’s to blame for the dearth of young, working males? Economists point to a number of possible factors, including increased rates of school and training, as well as disability and illness. The former isn’t a bad thing. As the kinds of manufacturing and middle-skill jobs that long appealed to young men — particularly those without college degrees — dried up during and after the Great Recession, many young men have returned to school for training in new fields.

Learning new skills to compete for 21st century jobs isn’t exactly sitting around all day on mom and dad’s couch playing video games — which some economists posit may also be among the reasons for the decline in young, male workforce participation. It’s admirable that millennial men are seeing the writing on the wall and attempting to shift with the times. One has to wonder that if by the time they enter the workforce, too much time during the prime foundational years of their careers will have been lost. If nothing else, it means millennial men will likely need to work longer in order to make up lost retirement savings they didn’t earn in their 20s and early 30s.

The other factor, disability and illness, is trickier. If opioids are involved, it’s going to make it that much harder for young men to break through into the workforce and find jobs with growth potential.

Either way, as many industries stare down a labor shortage, it appears much more obvious today from which sideline they can start plucking candidates to fill open roles. Crazy as it sounds, the next wave of diversity and inclusion efforts may need to be aimed at integrating more young men into the workplace. The alternative could be a generation of eligible workers lost.

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