Millions of prime-age men, those ages 25 to 54, are missing from the work force, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
A new report found that in 1996, 4.6 million prime-age men did not participate in the labor force. By 2016, this number had risen to 7.1 million.
The trend is nothing new. That segment of the population has been leaving the labor force in growing numbers since the 1960s.
But Didem Tüzemen, Federal Reserve Bank economist, says the nonparticipation rate has surged over the past 20 years, partly due to technology.
“Some of the occupations in the labor force are being automated, are being replaced by computers and machines,” Tüzemen tells Nebraska Radio Network. “This also led to skills of some of these workers to become obsolete, because they were, basically, replaced by computers or machines.”
Interviews she conducted with prime-age men found many of those report illness or disability as the reason they are not working.
“So it’s not clear whether these people were in that situation to begin with and then could not participate, or maybe they were actually forced out of the labor force due to losing their jobs and then could not find job opportunities, and then this led to disability and illness among them,” Tüzemen explains.
The nonparticipation trend corresponds to the decline in middle-skill jobs, which are often repetitive and where decison-making is based on a set of rules.
“We can have computers or machines replace these workers, and some firms have gone that way,” Tüzemen says.
Retraining displaced workers may be the best way to keep them in the labor force, she says.
AUDIO: Mike Loizzo reports [:40]