South-Western College Publishing - Economics  
There's GOT To Be Something Better Than This!
Topic Employment, Unemployment, and Inflation
Key Words Workforce, Unemployment, and Discouraged Workers
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Reference ID: A148842378

News Story Millions of men in the prime of their lives have dropped out of the regular workforce. These men-who are able to work but choose not to do so--turn down jobs that they consider beneath them, or they are simply unable to find jobs for which they qualify. Many of these men could find a job if they had to, but the jobs available would offer lower pay and fewer benefits than the ones they lost. They have decided that they prefer the alternative of no job at all.

"These are men forced to compete to get back into the work force, and even then they cannot easily reconstruct what many lost in a former job," said Thomas A. Kochan, a labor and management expert at M.I.T.'s Sloan School of Management, "So they stop trying".

Take Alan Beggerow, for example. Mr. Beggerow has stopped looking for work. He was laid off as a steelworker at age 48. He taught math for a while at a community college, but when that opportunity ended he could not find a job that, in his view, was neither demeaning nor underpaid. So instead of going to work each day, Mr. Beggerow fills his days with various diversions: playing the piano, reading histories and biographies, and other activities previously relegated to spare time.

Workers like Mr. Beggerow are what economist call "discouraged workers." These persons are not included in unemployment numbers because these individuals are no longer looking for work because they think none is available, or they believe they lack the skills necessary to compete in the labor market. As a group, these individuals are considered to be a potential source of labor if adequate jobs were available to bring them back into the labor force. At one time, the discouraged worker phenomenon affected many more women than it did men. Women often left good jobs to follow their husbands' careers, only to find skimpy opportunities to use their skills in their new homes. Instead, many of these women simply chose to stay at home with their children-and thus the phenomenon was less obvious and considered less serious.

Most of these missing male workers are former blue collar workers with no more than a high school education, but their ranks are growing at all educational levels. The missing men are likely to live alone; nearly 60 percent are divorced, separated, widowed or never married. "What happens to a lot of guys who become unmoored from family life, they become unmoored from everything," said University of Pennsylvania sociologist Kathryn Edin. "They are just living without attachments and by the time they are 40 or 50 years old, the things that kept these men form falling away - family and community life - are gone."

Discussion Questions:
1. Discuss the notion of a discouraged worker. View the report at and discuss the role of women in the discouraged worker phenomenom.
2. Visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics at and develop a definition of the labor force from the terms in the glossary.
Multiple Choice/True False Questions:
1. Workers who quit looking for work are called:
  1. unemployed.
  2. lazy.
  3. temporary labor.
  4. discouraged workers.
2. People who are not looking for work make the unemployment rate increase.
  1. True
  2. False
Source Louis Uchitelle and David Leonhardt, "Men Not Working, and Not Wanting Just Any Job", The New York Times Online, July 31, 2006.
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