October 13, 2016

Unemployment as a health problem for American men

Washington Post - Once upon a time, nearly every man in America worked. In 1948, the labor-force participation rate was a staggering 96.7 percent among men in their prime working years.

That statistic has been steadily declining ever since. Today, about 11.5 percent of men between the ages of 24-54 are neither employed nor looking for a job. Economists say that these people are “out of the labor force” — and they don’t figure into statistics like the unemployment rate.

... Princeton professor Alan Krueger, a former chief economist at the Department of Labor and former chairman of Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, has taken a look at the [data]. What stood out to him is that a lot of these men say they are in considerable pain.

In a recently released draft of his paper, which he will present at a Federal Reserve conference , Krueger finds that 44 percent of male, prime-age labor force dropouts say they took pain medication the day prior — which is more than twice the rate reported by employed men.

In a follow-up survey focusing on these male labor-force dropouts, Krueger found that these were serious habits. About two-thirds of the people taking pain medication were using prescription drugs, not over-the-counter remedies like Tylenol or aspirin.

Compared to their employed counterparts, these men also reported more emotional pain — more feelings of sadness, tiredness, and stress.

About 20 percent of these men say they have difficulty walking or climbing stairs; about 16 percent say they have memory or concentration problems; over a third say they have a disability of some kind, and nearly 18 percent say they have multiple disabilities.

“This is a group is that particularly unhappy and distressed, that often faces significant health conditions which are a barrier to employment,” Krueger said in an interview.

Declining health is becoming a major reason prime-age men are working less and less. The Bureau of Labor Statistics regularly asks people why they aren’t in the labor force. Of the 11.5 percent of prime-age men who aren’t employed or looking for a job, over half blame illness or disability. The rest are either retired, going to school, or performing housework.

In other words, fully 6 percent of American men between the ages of 25-54 feel that their minds or their bodies are too broken for them to work. This rate has nearly quadrupled since 1968, when only 1.6 percent of men felt the same way.

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