New data released by the US Census Bureau on Tuesday shows that real median household income increased by 3.2 percent between 2015 and 2016, from $57,230 to $59,039, while the official poverty rate decreased by 0.8 percentage points to 12.7 percent. In absolute terms, that means 2.5 million fewer Americans were living in poverty last year than the year before, but 40.6 million still were. The 2016 poverty rate, the bureau notes, is only slightly higher than the 12.5 percent rate recorded in 2007, the year before the Great Recession began.
US workers’ incomes are also close to fully recovering from the recession, Aimee Picchi adds at CBS Moneywatch, with last year’s figures “just 1.6 percent below what households earned before the recession started in late 2007, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank”:
“We’re back to where we were before the recession,” said Sheldon Danziger, president of the Russell Sage Foundation, which focuses on poverty research. “You have an economy that has flat-lined for people with a high school degree or less since the 70s and flat-lined for the middle class during the last 20 years.” …
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In a paper last year on the disappearance of many prime-age men from the US workforce, Princeton economist Alan Krueger presented the unsettling finding that 44 percent of working-age men who were not in the labor force reported taking pain medication on a regular basis, and two-thirds of these men were taking prescription pain medication. While improvements in video game technology may be contributing to these men’s lower workforce participation by making long-term unemployment more bearable, Krueger wrote, their high rates of poor health and use of narcotic painkillers are much more disconcerting.
In the Fall 2017 edition of the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Krueger publishes an update of that research with new data, homing in on the impact of opioid epidemic on the labor market. That impact, he finds, is even more significant than previously thought, accounting for some 20 percent of the decrease in men’s labor force participation between 1999 and 2015, and 25 percent of the decrease among women, Brookings editor Fred Dews explains:
Krueger’s paper suggests that, though much of the decline can be attributed to an aging population and other trends that pre-date the Great Recession (for example, increased school enrollment of younger workers), an increase in opioid prescription rates might also play an important role in the decline, and undoubtedly compounds the problem as many people who are out of the labor force find it difficult to return to work because of reliance on pain medication.
Conventional wisdom holds that work-life balance is somewhat more important to female employees than it is to their male colleagues, especially after they have children and have to juggle work and family responsibilities. Research also backs up this perception: A recent survey of independent contractors found that women were attracted to self-employment by the flexibility it offered to a greater extent than men. Our research at CEB (now Gartner) has also found that while both men and women value work-life balance, women are slightly more likely than men to identify it as a main factor attracting them to an employer. The absence of policies supporting work-life balance drives working parents of both genders to leave their employers, but this is even more true for moms than for dads.
However, a study just published in the Journal of Applied Psychology calls this piece of conventional wisdom into question, finding that men and women are about equally likely to experience work-family conflict—but women are much more likely than men to voice these concerns. Mark Eltringham at Workplace Insight talks to the lead author of the paper about why this is so:
Researchers spent several years examining the findings from more than 350 studies conducted over three decades that included more than 250,000 participants from across the world. The results were surprising, said lead researcher Kristen Shockley, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Georgia. …
“We essentially found very little evidence of differences between women and men as far as the level of work-family conflict they report,” she said. “This is quite contrary to the common public perception. The way this issue is presented in the media frames the way we think about it, and it creates a perpetual cycle. Women hear that other women are struggling with this issue, so they expect they will experience greater work-family conflict. There also is some socialisation for it being OK for women to talk more about it than men.”
On the other side of the equation, men still experience stigma for wanting to involve themselves more actively in their family life, and fear that it will harm perceptions of their masculinity or dedication to their jobs. The study did find some minor differences among certain subgroups of men and women in terms of how much work-family conflict they experienced, but Shockley said none of these differences were especially significant.
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I’m what many people would call a gamer. I own and play a lot of video games, I see games as my primary source of entertainment, and I’ve even built my own high-end gaming computer. I’m also pretty well connected with the gaming communities studied in the recent controversial paper claiming that better video games may account for why young men are declining to pursue full-time employment. I don’t dispute the data backing up these economists’ argument, but I do take issue with their framing.
The premise of the paper (as it has been described in the popular press) is that young men are choosing video games over potential jobs because video games are as good at building the social networks and feelings of self-fulfillment as those jobs. However, my experience with this community suggests the opposite: Gamers who choose not to work do so not because because games are a great substitute for a career, but because the jobs they would qualify for don’t make them happy.
Among the gamers I know who best fit the profile of the demographic examined in the study, many are vocal about the dissatisfaction they feel with the roles available to them. This seems to be reflected in the data itself: The paper also finds that while more educated young men are also playing more video games, this has not led to a significant decline in their average work hours. Undereducated gamers, by comparison, tend to qualify only for jobs that are dull and menial, with low pay, poor mangers, no upward mobility, and high and risky barriers to better job opportunities (particularly, college education). Many don’t see gaming all day as a goal, but the best of several bad options—the exception being those few gamers who believe they can play competitively.
One of the most challenging and puzzling trends in the US labor market since the Great Recession has been the persistently high number of long-term unemployed Americans of working age. Even as the economy has improved and the labor market has tightened, labor force participation remains at a lull, and many of those who dropped out of the workforce in the past decade appear unwilling or unable to re-enter it. That’s particularly true of prime-age men without college degrees, who have lost ground in the job market as traditional blue-collar jobs have disappeared or become less lucrative—and will most likely continue to disappear in the coming decade as roles mostly held by women grow in availability and importance.
Employers and policymakers have begun to think harder about how to get these men re-engaged in the workforce, whether through earning college degrees or transitioning into traditionally female-dominated professions like health care. There is, however another possible explanation for the decline of work among young men: What if they’re not working as much because they don’t want to? What if they’d rather be playing video games? That’s the provocative conclusion of a new paper by economists Erik Hurst, Mark Aguiar, Mark Bils, and Kerwin Charles, released recently by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The New York Times‘ Quoctrung Bui goes over the paper’s findings in detail:
By 2015, American men 31 to 55 were working about 163 fewer hours a year than that same age group did in 2000. Men 21 to 30 were working 203 fewer hours a year. One puzzle is why the working hours for young men fell so much more than those of their older counterparts. The gap between the two groups grew by about 40 hours a year, or a full workweek on average. …
Hurst and his colleagues estimate that, since 2004, video games have been responsible for reducing the amount of work that young men do by 15 to 30 hours over the course of a year. Using the recession as a natural experiment, the authors studied how people who suddenly found themselves with extra time spent their leisure hours, then estimated how increases in video game time affected work.
In the fast-changing work environment of today, blue-collar jobs are being transformed and displaced by the advent of automation, while many of the fastest-growing jobs are in human-focused fields like health care. These changes have consequences in terms of gender dynamics in the workplace, as the jobs that are disappearing are traditionally “male”, while those that are growing are mostly dominated by women. At the Atlantic, Alana Semuels captures the experience of men in parts of the US where blue-collar work has dried up, as they find themselves shifting into jobs that were once considered “women’s work”:
Janette Dill, a sociology professor at the University of Akron, has found that men gravitate towards a certain kind of health-care job, avoiding the patient-centric kind of work that has traditionally been classified as female— jobs such as home health aides or nursing assistants. Instead, men tend to go work as surgical technologists, radiology technicians, and respiratory therapists. These are jobs that are new enough that they haven’t yet been defined as “women’s” work, Dill said.
These jobs are often portrayed as being technical, rather than nurturing. “There’s not that stigma around this kind of work,” she told me. In 1996, according to Dill, 16 percent of these types of jobs were held by men, but by 2008, that number had risen to 26 percent. The BLS has up-to-date numbers on some such jobs. Its data shows that while in 2016 there were a much greater share of women than men in most health-care support jobs, some occupations had a significant share of men. Men made up almost one-third of technicians in clinical labs, and 35 percent of what the BLS calls “miscellaneous” health technicians.
Last week, Bloomberg’s Jordan Yadoo called attention to some new Labor Department data showing that American men are enrolling in college at record rates:
Of the 1.5 million men in the high school graduating class of 2016, just over one million, or 67 percent, were enrolled in two- or four-year institutions last fall, according to new Labor Department data. That’s up more than 6 percentage points from 2012, surpassing recession-era levels when the weak economy pushed students to stay in school and wait out the downturn. It’s also the highest share on record in Labor Department data going back to 1993 and in an alternative series from the National Center for Education Statistics going back to 1960. …
The steady rise in male college enrollment since 2012 suggests that young men “seem to have gotten the message” that securing a stable job these days requires more than a high school diploma, according to Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce in Washington.
Carnevale is one of the authors of a report last year that underscored the essentiality of a college degree in today’s job market, finding that the vast majority of new jobs created since the end of the Great Recession had gone to employees with at least a bachelor’s degree. Other research has also pointed to the need for men, in particular, to pursue higher education in greater numbers.