Broadly speaking, men have historically had the upper hand in the U.S. economy: they earn more money than their female counterparts, they are less likely to fall down the economic ladder than women, and a study released earlier this year from the Pew Research Center also showed men to be bouncing back from the "mancession" better than women.
However, a host of studies show a growing group of "disadvantaged men" who are underemployed, undereducated, and highly incarcerated—a phenomenon that predates the recent recession. Incarceration rates for men have skyrocketed since the 1980s. And a recent study published by the American Academy of Political and Social Science found that few teenage and young adult males benefited from the economic recovery of 2003 to 2007, and that men under 30 were the most adversely affected of any demographic group by the Great Recession.
Even as many women continue to fight for equal pay and to shatter the glass ceiling, here are four reasons why even those without Y chromosomes should care about the plight of disadvantaged men in the United States.
America Has a Racial Economic Gap
To talk about "disadvantaged men" is to talk about racial disparities in America. White, non-Hispanic males account for about 78percent of all men over 25 in the U.S., and 82 percent of men over 25 with a bachelor's degree or higher are white. However, less than one-third of prisoners are white men. Likewise, while the employment-to-population ratio has been declining for men across the board, it has not done so equally across racial and ethnic groups. For example, 66 percent of white men 16 and older are employed, compared to 53 percent for black men. According to Ron Haskins, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, that rate for young black men is particularly low, at about 50 percent. "When you have any population that has half of them unemployed, that's just beyond the pale," he says.
The United States Has a Culture of Incarceration
The United States jails 702 people per 100,000 (and a vast majority of those prisoners are men). This is 12 percent higher than Russia, and it is more than five times the incarceration rate of England and Wales, Spain, Canada, Australia, or Italy. "We are arresting far too many young men. ... And this is an area where we can save money," said Irwin Garfinkel, co-director of Columbia University's Population Research Center, at a discussion at the Brookings Institution on Monday. Reducing the amount that the country spends on imprisoning over 2 million people could save money for governments already strapped for cash and cutting jobs—cuts that have affected women and men alike during the economic recovery.
The Decline in Manufacturing and Construction Has Hurt Men Most
One reason why men suffered so greatly during the recent recession was the decline in jobs in the manufacturing and construction industries, both of which are dominated by male workers. As the depressed housing market is arguably the key weight holding down the U.S. economy right now, finding ways to get all of those unemployed construction workers—and the factory workers making building equipment, vehicles, and tools—back to work is going to be key to making for a more robust recovery for everyone.
Families Suffer When Men Suffer Economically
The problems faced by disadvantaged men makes for hardship for many women and children nationwide. According to Garfinkel, a father's incarceration reduces his contributions to his family by $1,300, or 25 percent, per year. It also doubles his odds of homelessness, making it more difficult to support his family when he is freed from prison. And new Census data suggests that a family with no father present must work harder just to stay afloat; in a family with children under 15 in which the mother is widowed, separated, or divorced and makes childcare payments, 11.7 percent of the family's monthly income is spent on child care, compared to 7.0 percent in families in which the mother is married.