Nathan Butcher is 25 and, as with many men his age, he isn’t working.
Weary of long days earning minimum wage, he quit his job in a pizzeria in June. He wants new employment but won’t take a gig he’ll hate.
So for now, the Pittsburgh native and father to young children is living with his mother and training to become an emergency medical technician, hoping to get on the ladder toward a better life.
Ten years after the Great Recession, 25 to 34-year-old men are lagging in the workforce more than any other age and gender demographic.
About 500,000 more would be punching the clock today had their employment rate returned to pre-downturn levels.
Many, like Butcher, say they’re in training. Others report disability.
All are missing out on a hot labor market and crucial years on the job — ones traditionally filled with the promotions and raises that build the foundation for a career.
“At some point, you can have a bit of an effect of a lost generation,” according to David Dorn, an economist at the University of Zurich.
“If you get to the point where you’re turning 30, you’ve never held a real job and you don’t have a college education, then it is very hard to recover at that point.”
Men — long America’s economically privileged gender — have been dogged in recent decades by high incarceration and swollen disability rates. They hemorrhaged high-paying jobs after technology and globalization hit manufacturing and mining.
The young ones have fared particularly badly.
Many of them exited high school into a world short on middle-skill job opportunities, only to be broadsided by the worst downturn since the Great Depression.
Employment plummeted across the board during the 2007 to 2009 recession, and 25 to 34-year-old men fell far behind their slightly-older counterparts.
Though employment rates have been climbing back from the abyss, young men never caught up again.
Millennial males remain less likely to hold down a job than the generation before them, even as women their age work at higher rates.
Their absence from the working world has wider economic consequences. It marks a loss of human talent that dents potential growth.
Young people who get a rocky start in the job market face a lasting pay penalty. And economists partly blame the decline in employed, marriageable men for the recent slide in nuptials and increase in out-of-wedlock births.
Those trends foster economic insecurity among families, which could worsen outcomes for the next generation.
Butcher, for one, hopes EMT training at a community college will be a first step toward a career in health care. He wants to earn enough to provide security for his son and daughter, who live with their mother.
“It’s a good start to a career,” he said.