In the coming decades, could so-called “middle skills” jobs be a key factor in reversing the contemporary epidemic of non-working males in the U.S.? There is reason to hope the answer is a resounding yes.

A phenomenon thoroughly documented by the American Enterprise Institute’s Nicholas Eberstadt and other scholars, an estimated seven million men in their prime working years of 25 to 54 years-old are absent from the U.S. labor force. Several factors tend to characterize these men: they are more likely to be minorities (particularly African-American), undereducated (no more than a high school diploma, and often less), and with a history in the criminal justice system. One attribute characterizes all of them—they are entirely disconnected from work. They’ve dropped out, unplugged, and given up on joining the labor force altogether.

Reasons for this are multifaceted, running the gamut from the challenges of obtaining work with a criminal record to addictions (alcohol and opioids particularly) to reliance on disability payments, family members, or government support to survive.

Closer to home in Georgia, this impactful map created by The New York Times shows where the non-working male problem is particularly bad, including areas where northward of 42% of these males are non-working, spanning Georgia’s larger metro areas to small rural regions.

Could middle-skills jobs be key to reducing this trend? It’s estimated that 29 million middle-skills jobs exist in the US today—40 percent of them with annual salaries in excess of $50,000 (for more, download this PDF). These jobs require less than a bachelor’s degree but more than a high-school diploma, making shorter-term training programs and credentials—such as associate degrees, certificates, and apprenticeships—an ideal option. Click here for more on the demand for middle skills jobs in Georgia.

There are a number of reasons to hope that we can achieve some success by placing more emphasis on these types of alternatives:

  • Offering guided training pathways that lead to a workforce-ready credential will give non-working men a greater motivation to engage, compared to the six (or more) years needed to finish a typical bachelor’s degree.
  • Offering “stackable credentials” that allow students to gradually and sequentially build their skillset over a period of time will allow these men to quickly see progress and ROI in their training journey.
  • Building condensed and accelerated training schedules would empower men to finish what they start and improve graduation rates at community colleges and other training programs.

The Georgia Center for Opportunity is committed to making these kinds of opportunities available for all Georgians through our College and Career Pathways Initiative.

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