Many working-age men simply don’t want a job

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Caption
The share of working age not in the labor force who say they want a job is at an all- time low, even though the demand for labor is stronger than at any time since before the last recession.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

David Blubaugh has put his job search on hold indefinitely.

The 36-year-old former U.S. Defense Department engineer said he could probably find a job if he had to, but he’s reluctant to settle for a job with lower pay and fewer benefits than what he once earned.

Blubaugh is not alone.

Millions of prime working age men who have dropped out of the regular workforce refuse to settle for just any job, even though an expanding economy now offers more job opportunities than at any time since the economic recovery began.

Instead of working in a position for which he would be overqualified or underpaid, Blubaugh — who has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in engineering — now spends some of his time taking advanced robotics courses at Sinclair Community College, mainly for his own edification, rather than training for a new job.

To pay the bills, he started his own engineering firm a few years ago: ATR Advance Technology Research, a small electrical equipment and supplies manufacturer in Springboro.

David Blubaugh (green shirt) has put his job search on hold indefinitely. The 36-year-old former U.S. Defense Department engineer said he could probably find a job if he had to, but he s reluctant to settle for a job with lower pay and fewer benefits than what he once earned. RANDY TUCKER
Caption
David Blubaugh (green shirt) has put his job search on hold indefinitely. The 36-year-old former U.S. Defense Department engineer said he could probably find a job if he had to, but he s reluctant to settle for a job with lower pay and fewer benefits than what he once earned. RANDY TUCKER

“I guess I am the kind of guy who wouldn’t want to work at McDonald’s, even though there’s nothing wrong with those jobs,” Blubaugh said. “So the way I’ve evolved and adapted to long periods of unemployment is to essentially build and create my own job. It’s a way to bridge the gap.”

RELATED:Construction workers earning higher wages

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, the share of men ages 25 to 54 who are out of the workforce and who want a job has fallen over time from a peak of 28 percent in 1985 to a mere 16 percent last year.

The majority of those displaced workers are concentrated in rural areas and hard-hit industrial states like Ohio, where the size of the labor force has shrunk by 245,000 since the start of the Great Recession, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And the state’s labor force decline has accelerated in recent months, dropping by 19,000 in October — the fifth month in a row of five-figure declines, according to the most recent report from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

RELATED:Ohio lost 2,800 jobs in October

The drop-off was steepest among non-college educated men who have seen their wages fall with their desire to go back to work, according to an analysis from the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, which recently analyzed wage distribution and labor force participation rates in each state for prime-age men.

The CEA analysis found that men at the bottom of the wage distribution scale were likely to have the least education and were the most likely not to participate in the labor force. Conversely, for every $1,000 increase in annual wages, the CEA found a corresponding 0.13 percent increase in the state’s labor force participation rate for prime-age men.

The trend reflects an evolving economy in which high-paying blue collar jobs in construction and manufacturing have been replaced with low-wage service and retail jobs, while most good jobs now require at least some post-secondary education, according to George Davis, and economics professor at Miami University.

“There has been a change in the composition of jobs over time from blue-collar jobs shifting, at least in our area to a significant degree, to professional and business services, which will typically require more formal education,” Davis said. “So that job mix is going to disadvantage people who are not inclined toward formal study.

“If what you had been doing is what your father had done, working at a $20- to $25-an-hour manufacturing job, or some other type of blue-collar work, and your option is $9 an hour at Arby’s, that shock to your expectations may very well lead you to leave the workforce.”

If wages play a key role in labor force participation, it’s no wonder Ohio’s labor force is shrinking.

RELATED:Many Ohioans still struggling despite low unemployment.

Ohio’s fastest-growing sectors and most common jobs are low wage. Of the 13 most common occupations, only two pay more than 200 percent of the official poverty line for a family of three. And nine of the most common jobs pay less than $30,000 a year with full-time, year-round work, according to a recent study by the Columbus-based think-tank, Policy Matters Ohio.

Still, the ranks of prime-age working men dropping out of the workforce is growing at all education and income levels.

Mark Hassel, a South Park resident in his mid-50s, said he recently quit a well-paying job as a mental health counselor in Tampa, Fla., to move to the Dayton area to be closer to family and friends.

Hassel is studying for an associate’s degree in biotechnology at Sinclair, but he’s not planning to use his degree to pursue another 9 to 5 gig.

“I’m looking to work part-time — possibly in research or maybe working in a lab — to augment my retirement savings as I move into my 60s, but I’m really not looking for another full-time job,” he said. “Right now, I’m a landlord, and I earn my living through a residential retail business. I’m looking at some other entrepreneurial opportunities as well. But whatever I do will be on my own terms.”

Miami University’s Davis said the shift from men feeling obligated to go back to work after losing a job, even if they have to take a pay cut or work in a demeaning occupation, is, in part, the result of changing social and economic norms that make it more practical and acceptable.

For example, Davis noted, men are no longer the primary breadwinners in many families, which means out-of-work men can often fall back on their wives’ incomes until the right job comes along. And some men may actually relish their role reversal in the traditional family structure.

“I’m over 60, and in my generation men were expected to go out and work and not stay home no matter what,” Davis said. “Culturally, it’s now more acceptable for the man to be the person who is taking care of the kids at home and raising the family, and there may be a significant number of men choosing to do that.”