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Smith Opening Statement at Hearing on Declining Employment Among Working-Age Men

September 06, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman Adrian Smith (R-NE) today delivered the following opening statement at a Subcommittee hearing entitled “Missing from the Labor Force: Examining Declining Employment among Working-Age Men.”

CLICK HERE to watch the hearing.​

“Good afternoon and welcome to today’s hearing titled “Missing from the Labor Force: Examining Declining Employment among Working-Age Men.”  I know this is a priority topic for the Ranking Member and I appreciate his work on this issue.

“For decades, the focus of most of our government assistance programs has been mothers and children living in poverty.  In these attempts to help single mothers with children, we have left out a key figure in the family – the father.

“Today, there are more than seven million working-age men in America who are not working or looking for work.  Unfortunately this is not a new phenomenon. The large number of men not in the labor force is a trend which has been growing for the past 50 years.  In 1967, 96% of men were working or looking for a job. Today it’s only 88%.  And it is even worse for those men without a high school diploma – an alarming 83%, or one in six are out of work.

“While unemployment rates have been up and down over the past five decades, inactivity among working age men, those ages 25 to 54, has only risen.  As Derek Thompson noted in The Atlantic in late 2014, inactivity among men grew during the Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and both Bush Administrations.  It grew during the dot-com boom and during the Great Recession.  And most concerning, inactivity among working age men has grown more since the end of the Great Recession than it did during the Great Recession itself. [1]

“This steady decline is most troubling because so few people seem to be discussing it. There hasn’t been great outrage or debate; it’s barely even been a topic of discussion.  Yet, it has a profound impact on our society, the economy, and individual and family well-being. 

“The United States ranks second to last in male labor force participation when it comes to other OECD nations, ahead of only Italy.  American men who are not in the labor force report spending less than one hour a day working or looking for work.  And it is not as if they are all of a sudden becoming the primary caretakers at home, as they are less likely than working men to be caring for household members such as children and aging parents.

“With a 4.4% unemployment rate combined with more than 6.2 million job openings, a historically high level as we continue to grow the economy, now is the time to engage these men and get them back in the workforce, for the benefit of themselves and their families.

“But the economy is not the only major concern. This lack of work also has growing impacts on family structure and our society.

“Today, there are roughly 11 million fathers who do not live with their children in the United States.  Close to 25% of them have no earnings, and therefore, are unable to support and care for their children.

“There are more than 600,000 sentenced prisoners nationwide released from prison each year, many struggling to find work and who frequently end up offending again, costing taxpayers and hurting communities.

“And there are more than 12 million adults who are able to work, yet are receiving food stamps with no reported earnings, up from just 4 million in 2000, highlighting the growing dependence on our public benefits programs. 

“In terms of child support alone, which this subcommittee has jurisdiction over, we should consider looking at ways to better connect non-working fathers to our already existing workforce development system and provide them with on-the-job training and apprenticeships when available.  We also should be looking to make sure all of our benefit programs coordinate with the child support system, so families are getting the help they need from the start. 

“While there is no single cause of the declining work among men, there are a number of contributing factors: a lack of training and credential completion, the rising prevalence of criminal records, higher usage of opioids, and a growing dependency on public benefit programs. We know these men – they are our fathers and our sons, our uncles and nephews – and families all across this nation depend on them every day.

 “I’m most excited to hear from Mr. Tyrone Ferrens, who has turned his life around after a time of turmoil and is now working as an electrician at TEI Electrical Solutions.  He began this work after attending an employer-led workforce development program known as Project JumpStart.  I’m grateful to him for sharing his story and helping our Subcommittee gain a fuller picture of the issue at hand.

“Over this past year, this Subcommittee has emphasized hearing from individuals with real, first-hand experience with the issues we are grappling with and attempting to reform day in and day out, and I’m glad Mr. Ferrens is here to give us his perspective today.  We have a lot to learn and I’m looking forward to diving in.”