Clocking out: Study says low pay, status loss causing men without college degrees to exit workforce

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The falling labor force participation from men in their prime working years is mainly driven by those without college degrees, who see themselves as losing money and status relative to their college-educated peers, according to a new study.

The study done by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found that earnings had fallen by more than 30% over the past 40 years for men without four-year college degrees who are between the ages of 25 and 54.

The weekly earnings for these men have declined 17% from 1980 to 2019, adjusted for inflation. College-educated men, on the other hand, saw their weekly earnings increase by 20%.

In that same period, women saw their earnings increase by 32%, with significant gains for women both with and without degrees, though the 39% gain by college-educated women was significantly higher, according to the study.

Those leaving the workforce in greater numbers are typically white men and younger men.

“For many workers, a job not only offers financial security, it also affirms their status, which is tied to their position relative to their age peers and many social outcomes,” researcher Pinghui Wu wrote in the study.

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In total, roughly one in nine men of prime working age are not in the labor force, compared to roughly one in 50 who weren’t in the mid-1950s, according to Bloomberg News.

“They are affirmatively not looking for work. They’ve punched out. They’re done,” TV host Mike Rowe said of the growing phenomenon on the Fox Radio program “The Brian Kilmeade Show.”

No one reason has been identified for why men are retreating from the workforce, but various studies have theorized that it is partly due to the decline in manufacturing jobs since 1960.

Most of those jobs have either been automated or moved outside the U.S., even for products actually sold in America.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston study is titled “Wage Inequality and the Rise in Labor Force Exit: The Case of US Prime-Age Men,” and was originally published in September.

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