Employment status can be measured in a number of ways. This brief uses several definitions for a more complete picture of low-income men’s connections to work. In addition to the official unemployment rate, we examine men’s participation in the labor force and their engagement in part-time work.
Low-income men age 18 to 44 without four-year college degrees report a lower level of labor force participation (employed or looking for a job at the time of the survey) than all men age 18 to 44: 77 percent versus 87 percent. However, there are differences in labor force participation by race and ethnicity. Among low-income men, Hispanics have the highest labor force participation rate (85 percent) and African American men the lowest (67 percent). The rate for low-income white men is close to the national average for all low-income men (75 percent).
Low-income men have lower levels of employment than higher-income men in the same age group. Nationally, 61 percent of low-income men age 18 to 44 report being employed, compared with 78 percent of all 18- to 44-year-old men. Among low-income men, Hispanics are more likely to be employed than white men (73 percent versus 60 percent). African American men are the least likely to be employed (44 percent).
Looking at unemployment reveals larger differences: low-income men have much higher unemployment rates (ratio of unemployed to labor force participants) than the national average of all men 18 to 44: 21 percent versus 11 percent.6 Among low-income men, African American men are the most likely to be unemployed (35 percent). Their unemployment rate is one and a half times as high as the rate for white men (21 percent) and more than twice as high as the rate for Hispanic men (14 percent).
The Detroit metropolitan area has the highest unemployment rate for low-income men among the 52 metropolitan areas examined (35 percent). The unemployment rate for low-income men is over 25 percent for several other metropolitan areas: Cleveland (30 percent); Providence (28 percent); Philadelphia, Sacramento, and Memphis (27 percent each); and St. Louis and Milwaukee (26 percent each). All except Providence have relatively high shares of low-income African American men (25 percent or higher).
Metropolitan areas in Texas with large Hispanic shares have the lowest unemployment rates for low-income men: Dallas (14 percent); San Antonio, Houston, and Austin (13 percent each); and El Paso (11 percent). Low-income men in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area also have low unemployment (12 percent).
Low-income men are less likely than working-age men in general to be employed full time. Among US low-income men who have worked in the past year, 30 percent were employed part time or less than 35 hours a week. This is more than one and a half times the rate of part-time work among all men 18 to 44 (18 percent). Low-income men are also less likely than all working-age men (16 to 64) to work year round, or 50 to 52 weeks annually (56 percent versus 73 percent). Low-income men are twice as likely as all men 18 to 44 to be employed for 26 or fewer weeks (22 versus 12 percent).
Looking at both hours and weeks worked, less than half (45 percent) of low-income men are employed full year, full time, compared with 66 percent of all working-age men. Low-income men are more likely than all working-age men to work part year, full time (26 percent versus 16 percent) or full year, part time (11 percent versus 7 percent).