The Future of the Work Ethic

"The trouble with the “demand-side theory” can be seen in the chart on this page. Since the end of the 2008-09 recession, America has witnessed an economic expansion now entering its eleventh year, and the ranks of the paid labor force are 20 million workers greater than at the post-recession nadir. Yet the number of men of “prime working age” (between 25 and 54) neither working nor looking for work has barely budged since 2011, hovering close to seven million—a total higher today than in 2009.

And this is not for lack of employment opportunities. To the contrary: the number of job openings in America has increased by five million since 2009. At the moment there are more unfilled positions in the U.S. economy than there are prime-age men who have dropped out of the labor force who might fill them. Not all of these unfilled jobs, by the way, are for computer coders and chemical engineers. Millions are in retail, restaurants, hotels, construction, and transport, and do not require applicants with college degrees.

America’s overall unemployment rate today is lower than at any time since the 1960s, and the official unemployment rate for prime-age men is just 3%. Yet for every prime-age man who is out of work and looking for a job, there are four more who are neither working nor looking. This is not a problem that can be solved by more Keynesian stimulus, a new industrial policy, or other so-called “demand-side tools.”"