The June jobs report, released Friday, gave signs that the US economy is doing well: Job growth is increasing, and unemployment levels remain at historic lows. Wages are rising a little bit, though not as much as economists hoped.
In June, the economy added 220,000 new jobs, according to the US Department of Labor. That was more than Wall Street economists had predicted, and is a big improvement from the past three months, when the economy was averaging about 121,000 new jobs. Unemployment is 4.4 percent.
What hasn't seemed to budge, though, is the labor force participation rate for men — the percentage of men in their prime working years who aren't working and aren't looking for work. Ten years ago, 90.7 percent of men in their prime were either employed or looking for work. Now just 88.4 percent are. While it might not seem like a huge difference, it adds up to hundreds of thousands more men who have given up on work.
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Labor economists have been studying this phenomenon for decades, as men without college degrees have been having a harder time finding good jobs. Many economists believe there aren't enough mid-skilled jobs for blue-collar workers out there. Nowadays, even manufacturing jobs require some level of technical training, and unskilled retail jobs pay very low wages.
But the lack of jobs or skills doesn't explain the entire problem. After all, federal job retraining programs have shown limited success in helping displaced workers. New research shows that the lure of computers — and video games in particular — has played a role in keeping young men from working.
"There has been a lot of research on how technology affects labor demand, how robots are displacing workers," said Erik Hurst, an economist from the University of Chicago who was one of the researchers involved in the study, which was published Monday. "But no one had really looked at the effect of technology on someone's willingness to work."