Mike the Mad Biologist

…but these are green shoots merely “bumps in the road.” Or something. Brad DeLong posted a graph showing just how dismal the employment numbers are: as a percentage of population, employment has cratered. That’s a much more revealing number as unemployment, especially the strict version (‘U3′) leaves out all sorts of people who would be willing to work if there were jobs.

Inspired by Delong, I decided to look at the historical male employment. I’m not a believer in the (false) notion of a ‘mancession’, but attitudes towards working women have changed dramatically over the last sixty years, but not towards working men. In other words, increases in female employment in part result from a broader acceptance of women in the workplace, while expectations of men and work haven’t really changed much. Here’s the monthly seasonally-adjusted employment data for men twenty years and older from 1948-2011:


You’ll notice that, in the mid-1970s, male employment drops and then stabilizes between 71-76%, so let’s look at the same data focusing on 1980-2011:


Let me highlight the key point because I like helping:


The technical economics term for this is pandimensional clusterfuck. Let’s be absolutely clear: since the end of 2008, male employment has never this low post-World War II. Ever.

But what do our august solons worry about? Budget deficits. Not the employment deficit. As I always write on this blog, people have to like this crap. And who in his or her right mind thinks record low male employment is a good thing? (Hell, we cause enough trouble when we’re gainfully employed).

Get unemployment down to 2-3 percent, then worry about budgets (which we should do at that point to prevent inflation and misallocation of resources, but that’s a different post).

In a sane political system, a persistent failure of this magnitude would be grounds for impeachment. Or perhaps beheading.

(By the way, anyone think this level of economic insecurity among men is helping women’s rights? Just asking. To me, it’s no coincidence there is a wave of sexual prudery and restriction of women’s freedoms sweeping across the U.S.).

An aside: Digby, uncharacteristically, makes a category error while she discusses the political implications of high unemployment:

The sad fact is that the President has not conveyed a sense that he cares passionately about the problem of unemployment and very, very foolishly bought into the finance boys’ advice that the key to economic success was in the hands of the bond vigilantes and confidence fairies.

In light of employment figures that haven’t budged since he took office, it isn’t farfetched to assume Obama hasn’t “conveyed a sense that he cares passionately about the problem of unemployment” because he doesn’t care passionately about it. As Digby notes, it is vital to his re-election, yet he really hasn’t fought for it.


  1. #1 Jim Thomerson
    June 15, 2011

    There is an aspect of companies being able to, and, of course, wanting to hire at lower wages. With the increasing number of educated females, and the long history of lower pay for females, it follows that female unemployment will be lower. Secondly, hiring youngsters is cheaper than hiring experienced people. So there is moaning about the unavailability of technically trained people with a large number of unemployed experienced technical people. Rather than creating 10,000 new engineers, President Obama ought to be concerned about finding jobs for 10,000 unemployed engineers.

  2. #2 Rhiannon
    June 15, 2011

    I think this is a symptom of the larger “We don’t make anything anymore” issue. A lot of women are employed in personal service jobs: nursing, food service, cleaning, etc. that can’t be off-shored. We need to create a diversity of jobs in this country, not just more of these low-wage service jobs, if we want to a. employ men and b. get consumers spending.

  3. #3 Vene
    June 15, 2011

    But, Jim, us young people aren’t in any better shape. Young adults without college have an unemployment rate of something around 30%, those with one have a rate of around 10%. The official national rate is 9%. This economy is hurting everyone, scratch that, everyone without a 7 figure income.

  4. #4 deinst
    June 15, 2011

    It is good to see someone looking at this. If you want another clear indictment of the Obama administration on jobs, look at the Part-Time for Economic Reasons data (table A-8, LNS12032197 for example). One would expect this to start to improve slightly before, and slightly faster the E/P ratio.

    An interesting feature of the male E/P ratio is how quickly it falls and how slowly it rises. One would hope that a recession of this magnitude would behave differently, but it appears that it won’t.

    Jim: The female E/P ratio is about 10% less than the male ratio which is about as large as you would expect it to be, so going forward the one expects that the two series should behave similarly. I suspect that the cultural changes over the last 50 years have had more effect on the female E/P ratio than purely economic ones.

  5. #5 Calli Arcale
    June 15, 2011

    I think Rhiannon hits the nail on the head. The jobs that are leaving are, in general, traditionally either male-majority or gender neutral, while most of the growth areas seem to be in the service sector, which is traditionally female-majority. This alone would drive a skew.

    Another factor may be that of the remaining male-majority jobs, many are experiencing either a lack of candidates or a lack of clients. Construction is a big area in serious trouble right now; a lot of my female coworkers have unemployed or underemployed husbands in the construction business. This is because fewer people can afford to build new structures or renovate existing ones; it’s part of the general real estate slump. Another area which is traditionally male-majority is the trades, and this suffers from a lack of candidates. If you hire a plumber right now, odds are good you’ll get somebody over the age of 50; this may be a side-effect of the push to produce more engineers, because far fewer people are going into the trades these days. They’re going to college to get a bachelor’s degree instead of going to technical college and then into an apprenticeship. Perhaps the emphasis on STEM is beginning to bite us in the behind, because there is now a perception that these are lower-class jobs, despite the fact that when business is good, they’re actually reasonably well paid jobs.

    And that’s another way of getting at exactly what Rhiannon said, which is that we need a diversity of jobs in this country.

  6. #6 heteromeles
    June 15, 2011

    Do remember that “self-employed” counts as “unemployed” in these stats, and that many business owners are also not counted as “employees.” Nor are authors, anyone making money off of online gigs, self-employed investors, people selling drugs or other criminals, or anyone who does doing anything that isn’t tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as “having a job.” All are by definition unemployed.

    Not that I’m saying that the economy doesn’t suck. It certainly does. Regardless, these figures should be treated with a certainly level of amused contempt.

    This is especially true for those of us who are having trouble finding jobs. We have to find other ways to make a living. And we do.

    The tragic thing here is that there’s a difference between providing for one’s family and being employed, but many men do not see that crucial difference. They regard being employed as the only way to support their families, and it destroys them to be laid off. That is the most pernicious part of this graph, and unfortunately, Mike perpetuates it.

  7. #7 deinst
    June 15, 2011

    heteromeles: Do you have any idea at all of what you are talking about? Quoting from the bls.gov methodology

    Employed persons. All those who, during the reference week, (1) did any work at all as paid employees, worked in their own business or profession or on their own farm, or worked 15 hours or more as unpaid workers in a family-operated enterprise; and (2) all those who did not work but had jobs or businesses from which they were temporarily absent due to illness, bad weather, vacation, childcare problems, labor dispute, maternity or paternity leave, or other family or personal obligations — whether or not they were paid by their employers for the time off and whether or not they were seeking other jobs. Each employed person is counted only once, even if he or she holds more than one job. Included in the total are employed citizens of foreign countries who are residing in the United States, but who are not living on the premises of an embassy. Excluded are persons whose only activity consisted of work around their own home (such as housework, painting, repairing, and so forth) or volunteer work for religious, charitable, and similar organizations.

    I’ll take that as a ‘no’.

  8. #8 Katharine
    June 15, 2011

    All I can think is that some misogynist shit is going to twist this into ‘BUT WHAT ABOUT THE POOR MENZ’?

    Does misogyny in Western countries tend to go up as personal insecurity does?

  9. #9 John Smith
    June 15, 2011

    @Katharine about the same rate as misandry does, actually.

  10. #10 Troublesome Frog
    June 15, 2011


    Do remember that “self-employed” counts as “unemployed” in these stats, and that many business owners are also not counted as “employees.”

    1) As pointed out above, this isn’t true.
    2) Is the implication that what we’re seeing is not really unemployment but rather a sudden sharp rise in entrepreneurship?

  11. #11 Evo7
    June 16, 2011

    Interesting. When were males first introduced and what was their original purpose?

  12. #12 gf1
    June 16, 2011

    We’ve not had a banking crisis like this since the great depression. The recession has so far been less severe than many expected, and much less than the depression of the twenties, in part because of the lessons we’ve learnt over the last century.

    Just because unemployment is high doesn’t mean that we should not be concerned about budget deficits, or delay changes to spending plans needed to get them under control. The trade-offs between the various policy options open to us are complicated and uncertain, but an extended period of high levels of unemployment while the economy rebalances self is, to some degree, inevitable. Insisting that politicians must over-come (or face beheading!) this isn’t really fair.

  13. #13 llewelly
    June 16, 2011

    John Smith | June 15, 2011 5:05 PM:

    @Katharine about the same rate as misandry does, actually.

    Someone rightly points out that misogynists often pretend male employment problems are due to feminism, and then some fool shoots back with accusations of “misandry”.

  14. #14 Misaki
    July 10, 2011

    When you have two goals, sometimes they are in conflict.
    Goal 1: reduce the deficit, so this “money” thing is something that future generations don’t have to worry so much about; as well as drops in resource supply from the increased consumption that results from deficit spending.

    Goal 2: reduce unemployment.

    In mainstream economics, these goals are in opposition. By changing attitudes towards signals, unemployment can be reduced without government spending: http://pastebin.com/Q86Zhgs9