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America's new malady: Men's shrinking paychecks

4 causes for the gender pay gap
4 big reasons for the gender pay gap 01:36

American household income is rising, but it may not be time to pop the champagne yet. Especially if you're a male.

Men aren't just still earning less than they did before the recession started, but their incomes continue to shrink, according to the latest data from the Census Bureau. The trend is part of the reason the gender pay gap is narrowing: Women are earning more, but their male counterparts are losing ground.

Annual median income for men who work full time declined to $51,640 last year, or about 0.4 percent below their 2015 earnings. They represented the only major demographic group to lose income. 

The trend may help explain why the labor participation rate for men continues to decline despite a stronger economy. Some men may not be finding the type of remunerative jobs that were once plentiful, such as in manufacturing or middle-skilled work, and are opting to sit on the sidelines.

"Men are doing worse than they were in 1973," said Sheldon Danziger, president of the Russell Sage Foundationwhich focuses on poverty research. "Women's earnings are substantially higher, but men's earnings have declined."

Note: Shaded areas indicate recessions.  Source: EPI analysis of Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement Historical Income Tables (Table P-41)

Danziger, who said he remembered when women wore pins that objected to their pay of 59 cents for ever $1 earned by men, noted the trend isn't affecting all men: Higher-skilled and educated male workers are earning more, while men without college degrees are losing out. 

Men haven't enjoyed income gains since the early 1970s, although women have made strides in the workforce, both through education and higher earnings. Women now earn 80.5 cents for every $1 men earn, the Census said on Tuesday. It marks the first decline in the wage gap since 2007. 

"This is a complicated subject, especially in light of the fact that, on average, a woman earns 80 cents for every dollar a man earns," Mary Coleman, senior vice president and COO of Economic Mobility Pathways, said in an email. "That said, for three decades now women have been entering and excelling in professions largely dominated by men. This is especially true in medicine and law."

Men are facing a number of challenges, Coleman said, including the high cost of college, which places it out of reach for young low-income men who are fathers and breadwinners, as well as inadequate social networks.

Since the recession started almost a decade ago, men's income has slid 1.1 percent, while women are earning 2.3 percent more, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute. 

The workforce participation rate for men stood at 69 percent in August, a decline of 4 percentage points since the recession began. The rate also slid for women, but only by about 2 percentage points. 

Salary reveal shows shocking gender pay gap 08:47

Households overall are earning more, but that's largely due to gains due among women. Stark disparities in income are also apparent, with wealthy Americans reaching an all-time high in median annual income last year, leaving working class and poor workers behind. 

Men are suffering from job losses in the manufacturing, transportation and utilities sectors, according to a recent report from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce and JPMorgan Chase. Demand has shifted to jobs in skilled services such as health care, finance and education, which may favor women. 

But it's not only older men who are dropping out of the workforce. Young men are also working less, while spending more time playing video games. That trend prompted economists to ask whether men are skipping out on work because they'd rather play games, or if they were playing more games because work wasn't attractive. 

Rather than a generation of slacker men, the economists surmised that wage growth -- or the lack of it -- is probably the bigger issue, especially for men without college degrees. 

Donald Trump's presidential campaign successfully homed in on the problems of the male worker with a pledge to revive manufacturing. While factory jobs have increased slightly so far this year, there are still 1.3 million fewer of them than just a decade ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Getting men to return to wage growth may be the U.S. economy's next test. 

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