Chart of the Day: 7 Million Men Have Become Couch Potatoes?

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Many American men of prime working age – between 25 and 54 years old – are not working or even looking for work, resulting in a significant hole in the American economy. In 1953, 98% of men in that age range had a job or were looking for one. That number has fallen ever since. Today, 7.2 million men have dropped out of the workforce – learn more here and see this in the chart below.

It’s “a matter of our national identity,” said Mike Rowe, the host of “Dirty Jobs” on Discovery. “I think it’s a giant issue. … And by the time we realize how big an issue it is, we’re going to have a hard time turning the temperature down.” Check out his astonishing video report below.

The above report postulates that it’s not an issue rooted in the unemployment rate, which at 3.5% is the lowest it’s been in 50 years. So, what’s behind the phenomenon?

Jay Timmons leads the National Association of Manufacturers, an advocacy group based in Washington, DC, that represents thousands of manufacturers across the country. Timmons describes all this as a profound problem for the companies he represents. The No. 1 challenge for most of them right now is filling open jobs.

“I never thought I’d be able to say that,” he told CBS News. “But now it’s kind of an all hands on deck. We’ve got to fill these jobs that are open.”

More than 770,000 manufacturing jobs are open right now, according to the latest federal count, from November. The number has surged in recent years as companies reinvest in American-made products – or try to. How are non-working men between 25 and 54 spending their time? On average, nearly seven hours each weekday are dedicated to leisure time – relaxing, playing games, and watching TV, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2021.

So why are men not going to work?

When looking at the unemployment rate, it is at record lows – see the chart below and learn more here. But does this tell the whole story? There are about 165,000 in the civil labor force. So if these men were actually working or trying to get work, the actual unemployment rate would be closer to 6%.

Then there is the issue of wages, though the video report suggests that this is not an issue. However, when looking at hourly earnings vs. the CPI, wages simply are not keeping pace with inflation, as seen in the chart below.

Perhaps the economy is not as rosy as we are being led to believe. Still, others suggest that government “help” programs have made it too easy to be couch potatoes. The recent 40-year high inflation is causing many to ask the question – why work? I can be happy and poor or work hard and be just as poor. Inflation has reduced the standard of living of the middle class. Furthermore, the inflation outlook is disturbing, adding to the disillusionment.

Many of the economic pundits have gone to the “raise the inflation target” crowd. Basically, surrendering to the inevitable bad monetary policy of the Fed. Mohamed El-Erian told Bloomberg TV that the Fed won’t be able to get US inflation down to its 2% target without “crushing the economy.”

The Fed will have to simply pretend it has a 2% inflation target even as it resets higher. “You need a higher stable inflation rate. Call it 3 to 4%,” El-Erian told Bloomberg Television. See his comments in the video below.

But perhaps there are other cultural issues at play when trying to understand why all these men are not at work. Did you catch the CBS commentator Gayle King’s little quip at the end of the above video? She said, “An able-bodied man that can work but doesn’t – is not attractive.” Aside from the sexist comment towards men (do we say that about women), she is probably right.

In the olden days, a few decades ago, men used to go out to get a job to buy a house, a car and prepare a place to get married and have kids with the woman of his dreams. With all the cultural issues today with dating, marriage, and the new “woke” phenomenon, is this even possible nowadays? Besides, porn is readily available on your smartphone.

Perhaps American men have no reasons to go to work anymore. This is obviously a disaster in the making. Give us your take on why men are not going to work. Is it really only about job opportunities, wage pay, or too many government freebies?

See more Chart of the Day posts.

By Tom Williams

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