How Can We Get Able-Bodied Men Back Into the Labor Force?

Getting men back to work | WHAT IF?
Getting men back to work | WHAT IF?

In 2017, seven million American men are outside of the labor force. What has caused the labor force participation rate to drop, and how can it be fixed? AEI'...


President Ronald Reagan once stated "I believe the best social program is a job." Indeed, work is what lifts people out of poverty more than any other type of welfare program, though some assistance may be needed at some point in a person's life. With this in mind, it's hard to believe that there is a great number of able-bodied men who are consciously not in the workforce, especially with our economy growing as it is. Why is this happening?

Several decades ago, just about all able-bodied adult men were in the workforce in some capacity. But over the years that has declined to about only 88%. These men are not disabled, elderly, or children; they are fully capable of working, but are not. These men are needed, as jobs are going unfilled across the country.

Poverty Studies scholar Robert Doar, Harry Holzer of the Brookings Institution, and Brent Orrell from ICF International discuss how to get these able-bodied men back to work in the video above.

It is critical, from the standpoint of construction, manufacturing, and other heavy industries, that we get American workers who are sitting on the sidelines back into gainful employment. We need hundreds of thousands of new construction workers to address a housing shortage. Where are we going to get those workers? If you talk to those who know the construction sector, they will tell you we are already using every available worker. So it's one thing to say to men, "you need to go back to work," but then you have to actually create jobs for them to go to.

A part of this may involve work training programs like apprenticeships. In an apprenticeships, the employer pays the trainee for the work they do, and the employer gains someone who will have the skills needed to fulfill the job requirements.

Another option that governments can do is to offer earned income tax credits for those who fall below certain wage thresholds, and especially for those who are non-custodial parents. This will enable these people to keep more of their earnings, and not be punished for working.

Getting men back into the labor force will be a complex process, but businesses and governments and our culture overall can consciously work to build a system in which these able-bodied men are able and encouraged to reenter the labor force, and to be productive members of society.