According to a new Congressional Budget Office Report.
In 2014, 16 percent of men in the United States between the ages of 18 and 34 were jobless or incarcerated, up from 11 percent in 1980. Those numbers and related longer-term trends have significant economic and budgetary implications.
In 2014, there were 38 million men in the United States between the ages of 18 and 34; about 5 million of those young men were jobless, and 1 million were incarcerated. Those numbers and some related longer-term trends have significant economic and budgetary implications. Young men who are jobless or incarcerated can be expected to have lower lifetime earnings and less stable family lives, on average, than their counterparts who are employed or in school. In the short term, their lower earnings will reduce tax revenues and increase spending on income support programs, and the incarceration of those in federal prison imposes costs on the federal government. Farther in the future, they will probably earn less than they would have if they had gained more work experience or education when young, resulting in a smaller economy and lower tax revenues.
The share of young men who are jobless or incarcerated has been rising. In 1980, 11 percent of young men were jobless or incarcerated; in 2014, 16 percent were (see figure below). Specifically, 10 percent of young men were jobless in 1980, and 1 percent were incarcerated; those shares rose to 13 percent and 3 percent in 2014.
Trends in Joblessness and Incarceration
Rates of joblessness and incarceration differ among young men with different levels of education. In every year between 1980 and 2014, young men with less education were likelier than those with more to be jobless or incarcerated. For example, in 2014, about 1 in 5 young men with only a high school education was jobless or incarcerated; among young men with a bachelor’s degree or more, the share was 1 in 13. That difference was larger in 2014 than in 1980 because the rate of joblessness and incarceration for young men with only a high school education rose considerably over that period, growing much closer to the rate for those without a high school education. (The incarceration rate grew more slowly for young men with a high school education than for young men without one, but the rate of joblessness grew much more quickly for the first group than for the second.)
Rates of joblessness and incarceration also differ among racial and ethnic groups. Throughout the period from 1980 to 2014, young black men were more likely than other young men to be jobless or incarcerated. In 2014, they were roughly twice as likely to be jobless or incarcerated as young Hispanic men or young white men were. The differences in incarceration were particularly stark: Roughly 8 percent of young black men were incarcerated in 2014, whereas about 1 percent of young white men and 3 percent of young Hispanic men were. The racial and ethnic differences in rates of joblessness and incarceration grew over the period—primarily because of a large increase in the incarceration of young black men, though reduced rates of military employment among black men also played a role.
And throughout the period, among young men lacking a high school education, those who were black were particularly likely to be without a job or incarcerated. More than half of young black men without a high school education were either jobless or incarcerated in almost every year between 1993 and 2014. By contrast, among young white men without a high school education, the share who were jobless or incarcerated peaked in 2009, after the recent recession, at about one-third, and fell slightly after that. The share of young Hispanic men without a high school education who were jobless or incarcerated also peaked in 2009, at about one-quarter, though it was still close to that level in 2014. The differences were largely because of differences in incarceration: In 2014, for example, young black men without a high school education were four times as likely to be incarcerated as their white or Hispanic counterparts.
Why Joblessness and Incarceration Increased Among Young Men
Changes of at least three kinds contributed to the increase in joblessness and incarceration among young men between 1980 and 2014: economic changes, including the recent recession and slow recovery; policy changes at the federal, state, and local levels; and changes in the skills of young men with less education.
Several economic factors contributed to the increase in the share of young men who are jobless. Among them were longer-run trends in the economy, such as increases in the employment of women and the movement of some jobs to other countries. The especially large increase in joblessness among less educated young men may be partly attributable to changes in technology that have reduced demand for the labor of those young men. Some research suggests that a subset of that group—less educated young men who are native born—may have seen increased joblessness because of an influx of young immigrant men with little education and high rates of employment, but the evidence is mixed.
In addition to those long-run factors, the recent recession and slow recovery have also increased joblessness (though not incarceration) among young men. The unemployment rate of young men increased from 3.1 percent in 2006 to 7.9 percent in 2009, and the rate rose still more for young men without a high school education.