In one out five American households no one is waking up to go to work this morning – a startling data point from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
When we think of the unemployed we think about people who are desperately knocking on doors looking for a job. Post Great Recession, these may be older workers who were laid off and struggled to get back into the job market. It could be young people a few years out of college, but still unable to find a job.
However, there are just too many adults who are not employed and not interested in looking for work. They contribute to the 16.050 million households (19.7 percent) of the total 81.4 million Americans families, where no family members were employed last year. That number has barely budged from 16.057 million households in 2014 overall.
The percent of families where no one worked hit an all-time high of 20.2 percent in 2011 and held steady for a couple of years before slightly ticking down in 2014.
According to the data, these are not just single adults with no children, some 3.7 million households with children have no parent who is employed. Mother-led households where no one works outpace similar father-led households by 2.6 million compared to 450,000.
In addition, some demographic groups are disproportionately affected. While no one is employed in 11 percent of Asian households and 13 percent of Hispanic households, no one is working in 22.3 percent of black families.
So what could they be doing? The Washington Free Beacon explains:
The 19.7 percent of families in which no one was employed means they could have either been unemployed or not in the labor force (for example, married retirees).
According to the bureau, an individual is unemployed if they did not have a job but actively sought one in the past four weeks. An individual is classified as not in the labor force if they did not have a job and did not actively seek one in the past four weeks.
“In 2015, about two-thirds (68.2 percent) of families with an unemployed member also had at least one family member who was employed, and 58.8 percent had at least one family member who was employed full time,” the bureau explains.
The news isn’t entirely bad. Many children are growing up in working households. Some 89.3 percent had at least one employed parent in 2015, so at least a strong majority of kids are growing up understanding what it means for a parent to take care of the household by working every day.
There may be other factors at play here such as parents working “under the table” for someone else or in their own small businesses where they don’t report the income as well as households that are led by retirees.
Still accounting for this, we have to ask why such a large portion of American families are not working and how we could get them back to work if they are able.
Increasingly, states such as Maine and Kansas are targeting able-bodied adults without children who are unemployed and receiving food stamps or public assistance and pushing them back to work. By no longer waiving their work requirements, these individuals must now find themselves working, looking for work, volunteering, or in a training program to secure necessary skills for the workforce.
There is so much dignity and fulfillment in work and that is a message that has been lost of the past decade. We need to consider how to make work not just cool, but critical to economic stability, individual self-worth, and family success.