Missing Men? Precarity and Declining Labor Force Participation Among Working-Class Men

  • Robert Francis
Keywords: Working class, employment, nonwork, precarity


Recent research has noted declining labor force participation among working class men in the United States, but with little attention to the mechanisms underlying such withdrawal. In this article—drawing on in-depth interviews with 61 working-class men from rural Pennsylvania—I address this gap in the literature by prodding respondents on the sequential character of their employment experiences, their perceived vulnerabilities, and the calculations they make in the contexts in which they live. Findings reveal fluctuations in their engagement with work, something I refer to as participation churn. However, respondents’ labor force narratives also show how they adapt to local employment conditions and personal circumstances, a phenomenon referred to as adaptive nonparticipation. The results highlight key mechanisms underlying labor force dropout and have implications for how declining labor force participation should be understood. These findings advance the sociological understanding of how workers—even in precarious positions—assert agency.