In the early 1970s, just 6% of American men ages 25 to 54 were without jobs. By late 2007, it was 13%. In 2009, during the worst of the recession, nearly 20% didn't have jobs ... Although the economy is improving and the unemployment rate is falling, 17% of working-age men weren't working in December <2013>.
The article is based on Brookings research. Their article America Isn't Working: More Than One in Six Men Between 25 and 54 is Without a Job covers the same topic. Key quote on the causes:
There’s more than one explanation, but a big factor is that – partly due to globalization and technology – the wages of less-skilled, less-educated men have been falling. Simply put, that makes them less willing to get off the couch, particularly if finding a job demands running a gauntlet of on-line applications or requires a move or a long commute or surrendering government benefits.
Brookings also has a nice summary of why this is a problem:
The costs of having so many prime age men on the sidelines of the economy can be measured in lost wages, the rising tab for government benefits, foreclosures and bankruptcies. But the costs go beyond dollars and cents ... the decline in the share of men who are working may be one reason behind the fall in marriage rates. Men without jobs don’t make very attractive mates.
We agree with this assessment and we also think this adds to the general sense of economic insecurity, which has a number of negative 2nd order effects on society.
This is a huge problem and why it's happening hasn't been fully explained - which means we also have no easy answers as to how to fix it.