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The Great Jobs Mystery: Why Are So Many Men Dropping Out of the Work Force?

The Atlantic (09/07/12) Derek Thompson

Men’s participation rate fell to its lowest point on record in the August jobs report, and the overall participation rate fell to its lowest point since 1981. One reason this is happening is that the U.S. population is getting older, and more workers are entering that age where they are less likely to be employed. Another reason why more people are not participating in the work force is that they don’t think there is any work for them.

There are two more forces pulling down men’s participation: the rise of women and the growth of the safety net. Dual-earner households have allowed men to either choose to not work or to retire early. Perhaps even more importantly, the increase in Social Security payments, plus Medicare and Medicaid, have allowed older men to stop working and rely on government insurance programs to protect them from the risk of elderly poverty and medical catastrophe.