There are still places in the United States where nearly all men in their prime working years have a job. In the affluent sections of Manhattan; in the energy belt that extends down from the Dakotas; in the highly educated suburbs of San Francisco, Denver, Minneapolis, Boston and elsewhere, more than 90 percent of men between the ages of 25 and 54 are working in many neighborhoods. The male employment rates in those areas resemble the nationwide male employment rates in the 1950s and 1960s.
On the whole, however, it’s vastly more common today than it was decades ago for prime-age men not to be working. Across the country, 16 percent of such men are not working, be they officially unemployed or outside of the labor force — disabled, discouraged, retired, in school or taking care of family. That number has more than tripled since 1968.
This map allows you to examine nonemployment rates for prime-age men in every census tract and every county. (Census-tract borders typically follow city or town lines, although they are much finer in large cities.) The data is an average of surveys taken from 2009 to 2013.
You can see the low nonwork rates in those prosperous areas. More strikingly, you can also see sky-high rates across much of Appalachia, the Deep South, northern Michigan, the Southwest and the Northwest. In many towns across Clarke County, Ala.; Iosco County, Mich.; Malheur County, Ore.; and McKinley County, N.M., more than 40 percent of prime-age are not working.
Many of them are likely to remain out of work for months or years more, and some of them will never hold a steady job again.
By many measures, the Dakotas — home to parts of the fracking boom — have some of the healthiest local economies in the country. In October, the Dakotas had the two lowest state unemployment rates in the nation: 2.8 percent in North Dakota, 3.3 percent in South. Yet these states also have areas in which large numbers of men are out of work — without being counted in the official unemployment rate because they’re not actively looking for work.
In the Sioux reservations along the Nebraska border – in Shannon, Bennett and Todd Counties – about half of prime-age men have not been working in recent years. Employment rates are also low in the Sioux reservations of North Dakota. In the Northwest corner, the epicenter of fracking, however, the situation is very different. In one census tract near Williston, only about 3 percent of prime-age men are not working.
New York City
In the five boroughs, the percentage of men who are not working ranges from 17 percent in Queens to 28 percent in the Bronx. A few blocks near the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the Upper East Side of Manhattan had rates around 3 percent. Rates are as high as 100 percent in some census tracts, like the one around Rikers Island, that include jails. (The government counts people in jail in two ways in two different surveys. They are not included in the Current Population Survey, which is used to compute the unemployment rate. But they are counted as being outside of the labor force in these maps, which are based on the American Community Survey.)
California is starting to rival New York City as the nation’s inequality capital. The state is home to many of the world’s hottest companies and some of its richest people. It’s also home to a large class of high-earning professionals with college degrees. Some of them live in places like Mountain View (home to Google) or Los Gatos (home to Netflix). In some census tracts, more than 95 percent of prime-age men are working.
Yet overall employment rates in many parts of the state are lower than you might imagine, given the state’s many economic successes. Even in some of the most affluent counties — Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Orange in the southern part of the state, San Francisco, Marin and Santa Clara in the north — 15 percent to 20 percent of prime-age men are not working. For every place like Mountain View, there are others not so far away where nonwork rates approach 30 percent. And in some inland areas and counties in the far north, nonwork rates are even higher.
Arizona and New Mexico
This fall, The Upshot produced a national map showing where the largest number of people had gained health coverage through the Affordable Care Act. You’ll notice a lot of similarity between that map and this one, and that’s no coincidence.
The United States is unusual among rich countries in that it ties health insurance to employment. If you’re not employed (and you’re not old enough for Medicare or poor enough for Medicaid), you traditionally had a hard time getting health insurance. The health law passed in 2010 tried to change this situation.
The places with the highest rates of male nonwork include parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Kentucky, West Virginia, Arkansas and Michigan. These same areas have also had a sharp increase in health coverage in the last year, in part because more people without jobs can now obtain health insurance. Some exceptions: Alabama and the Carolinas, where nonemployment is widespread, but local officials have opted not to implement the health law fully.
The most obvious feature of Washington’s economy is the federal government, and it clearly plays a huge role. But a less obvious factor is also important: Washington is the most educated metropolitan area in the country, with 47 percent of people older than 25 having a bachelor’s degree in 2010, according to the census.
College-educated workers are far less likely to be out of work than those without degrees. No wonder, then, that the areas around Washington have some of the lowest prime-age male nonemployment rates among large counties. In many census tracts across Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax and Prince William in Virginia, as well as in Bethesda, Silver Spring and Rockville in Maryland, 90 percent or more of prime-age men are working.
Employment rates are lower farther east, which include the majority African-American areas of Prince Georges County and eastern Washington. Across the country, heavily black areas tend to have lower employment rates, though many predominantly white areas also have some of the lowest in the country.
Greater Appalachia — particularly in West Virginia and Kentucky — is on the wrong end of two big trends: It’s coal country, which is suffering amid the concerns about pollution and climate change, as well as the rise of fracking in North Dakota and elsewhere. And Appalachia has low levels of educational attainment at a time when education has become an economic dividing line.
In parts of West Virginia and eastern Kentucky — like Magoffin, Breathitt, Leslie and Wyoming Counties — about half the men ages 25 to 54 are not working. In a few counties — including Clay in Kentucky and McDowell in West Virginia — the share exceeds 60 percent. The situation in McDowell seems unremittingly grim: Every census tract has a nonwork rate for prime-age men above 45 percent.