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Expand chart
Data: EPI analysis of Current Population Survey, Census Bureau American Community Survey via IPUMS Abacus; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Young and less educated men are losing their place in the U.S. workforce.

Why it matters: Technology and automation, shrinking unions and changing family dynamics have transformed the role of men in the workforce, while male high school graduates either need to pursue higher education or enter lower-paid industries traditionally dominated by women.

1. The shifting workforce

Technology, globalization and the shrinking of unions have led to lower wages and disappearing blue collar jobs, Harry Holzer, an economist at Georgetown University and former chief economist for the Department of Labor, told Axios.

  • In their place, unskilled jobs in health care and secretarial work are booming — occupations traditionally dominated by women. But sociologists have found young men reluctant to take what they perceive to be "woman" jobs.
  • "They don't see themselves as doing that or think it's a feminized job," Robert Moffitt from John Hopkins University told Axios. "Even though the wages are not too bad, they don't want to enter those occupations."

Be smart: Less educated women have seen their wages rise as their male counterparts' have fallen, but women are still less likely to be in the workforce than men, hold far fewer leadership roles and in many cases are paid less.

2. The modern family

Establishing financial stability is no longer a prerequisite for sex or even fatherhood, and 40% of U.S. babies are now born out of wedlock.

  • "An ironic consequence of the sexual revolution is that by making sex outside of marriage safer and more permissible, it may also have reduced the incentive for people to marry," said David Autor an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • At the same time, unmarried fathers aren't faced with the same societal expectation that they provide financially for their children. "They don't feel as burning a need to work," Autor said.
"The opportunities that [men are] facing don't align with their expectations, and it's also somehow socially acceptable for them not to be working,"
— Katharine Abraham, Director of the Maryland Center for Economics and Policy and former Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics
3. Drugs and prison

Men have also been disproportionately impacted by high incarceration rates and the opioid epidemic. Finding a job with a criminal record is extremely difficult and keeping a job is much harder while struggling with addiction, multiple economists said.

  • Yes, but: The relation between employment and opioids or incarceration is cyclical — those who are unable to find work are also more likely to turn to crime or addiction, Abraham pointed out.

What's next: These trends exist in a healthy economy and tight labor markets. Most economists predict an economic downturn would be disastrous for young, uneducated men looking for a job. But there's one optimistic trend: Americans are more educated than ever, and college degrees are generally paying off.

Go deeper

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Kellyanne Conway has seen power exercised as a pollster, campaign manager and senior counselor to President Trump. Now that his term in office has concluded, she shared her thoughts with Axios.

Why it matters: If there's a currency in this town, it's power, so we've asked several former Washington power brokers to share their best advice as a new administration and new Congress settle in.

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GOP holdouts press on with plans to crush Cheney

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Pro-Trump holdouts in the House are forging ahead with an uphill campaign to oust Rep. Liz Cheney as head of the chamber's Republican caucus even though Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told them to back down.

Why it matters: What happens next will be a test of McCarthy's party control and the sincerity of his opposition to the movement. Cheney (R-Wyo.) is seen as a potential leadership rival to the California Republican.

Democrats aim to punish House GOP for Capitol riot

Speaker Nancy Pelosi passes through a newly installed metal detector at the House floor entrance Thursday. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

House Democrats plan to take advantage of corporate efforts to cut funding for Republicans who opposed certifying the 2020 election results, with a plan to target vulnerable members in the pivotal 2022 midterms for their role in the Jan. 6 violence.

Why it matters: It's unclear whether the Democrats' strategy will manifest itself in ads or earned media in the targeted races or just be a stunt to raise money for themselves. But the Capitol violence will be central to the party's messaging as it seeks to maintain its narrow majorities in Congress.