Last week, Goldman Sachs pointed out a very disturbing trend in the US labor market: where the participation rate for women in the prime age group of 25-54 have seen a dramatic rebound in the past 2 years, such a move has been completeloy missing when it comes to their peer male workers. As Goldman’s jan Hatzius put in in “A Divided Labor Market”, “some of the workers who gave up and dropped out of the labor force during the recession and its aftermath still have not found their way back in.” In fact, the labor force participation rate of prime-age (25-54 year-old) women has rebounded quite a bit and is now only moderately below pre-crisis levels, but the rate for prime-age men remains well below pre-crisis levels.
While Goldman did not delve too deeply into the reasons behind this dramatic gender gap, BofA’s chief economist Michelle Meyer did just that in a note released on Friday titled “The tale of the lost male.” As we have discussed previously, and as Goldman showed recently, Meyer finds that indeed prime-working age men – particularly young men – have failed to return to the labor force in contrast to women who have reentered. According to Meyer, while this reflects some cyclical dynamics, including skill mismatch and stagnant wages, what is more troubling is that there are several new secular stories at play such as greater drug abuse, incarceration rates and the happiness derived from staying home playing games.
The macro implications, while self-explanatory, are dire: with the labor force participation rate among young men unlikely to rebound, the unemployment rate should fall further and cries of labor shortages will remain loud, even as millions of male Americans enter middle age without a job, with one or more drug addition habits, and with phenomenal Call of Duty reflexes.