The economic foundation of angst in young, white males

The Great Recession has been referred to by some as the “man-cession.” This is due to the fact that it primarily affected manufacturing and construction–industries overwhelmingly staffed by males.

A look at young, white males once again demonstrates the importance of education in weathering economic storms. In the following chart I show unemployment rates by educational attainment for white males age 25-34 in 2003 and 2011. Although unemployment rates increase at every level of education, unemployment decreases in education. More importantly, the great recession hit the less educated harder.

The impacts on average earnings are similarly profound. Young, white males with a Bachelor’s degree have seen their average earnings increase more than their peers with less education.

Despite the high monetary returns to education, men represent only 43 percent of college students, a ratio flipped from 40 years ago. While this certainly reflects a rapid increase in women attending college, it also shows that a lower share of males are choosing college than in the past.

This has important social implications. Labor force participation rates are also declining for young men. We need to seriously examine the fact that young males–regardless of race–are less integrated into the labor market than in the past. This is a lost economic resource, and potentially imposes higher social costs.

Clearly the US economy continues to reward higher educated workers more than less educated workers. But that does not mean individuals with lower education levels should be tossed aside. Policy makers need to continue to commit to ways by which young workers can improve their skills and economic policies that create opportunities for everyone, regardless of educational attainment.

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