America today is in the grip of a gradually building crisis that, despite its manifest importance, somehow managed to remain more or less invisible for decades — at least, until the political earthquake of 2016. That crisis is the collapse of work for adult men, and the retreat from the world of work of growing numbers of men of conventional working age.
Yes, it is a bit odd that it has been invisible. Somebody has to pull the economy forward. Men are the ones expected to do so. They are also the ones that don’t have any excuses, as they (at least the white ones) are not members of an approved victim group. Of course, there has been some complaint, but perhaps not the amount that one might expect.
According to the latest monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “work rates” for American men in October 2019 stood very close to their 1939 levels, as reported in the 1940 U.S. Census. Despite some improvement since the end of the Great Recession, Great Depression-style work rates are still characteristic today for the American male, both for those of “prime working age” (defined as ages 25 to 54) and for the broader 20 to 64 group.
Yes, and still no significant complaints. Odd.
Unlike the Great Depression, however, today’s work crisis is not an unemployment crisis. Only a tiny fraction of workless American men nowadays are actually looking for employment. Instead we have witnessed a mass exodus of men from the workforce altogether.
Of course there are reasons. Any type of analysis that is going to be considered to be “mainstream” isn’t really going to state the truth. Let’s see how close they come.
Among economists and policy analysts who have examined these unsettling trends, the general consensus is that declining male workforce participation in modern America is mainly a structural, demand-driven problem — a matter of evaporating local jobs, and especially jobs requiring limited skills
Well, yes. There is truth to this. Globalism, China, however you want to look at it, it is a problem. Perhaps economists might consider other factors.
If the diagnosis offered by today’s conventional wisdom is wrong, then the prescription — more and better schooling — is unlikely to solve the problem by itself. There can be no arguing against more and better education for America, of course; more and better education appeals on its own merits, as it offers our society and its citizens all sorts of incontestable benefits. But as an instrument for redressing the long-term “flight from work” by men in modern America, more and better education may prove to be of more limited utility than many of us might hope.
Yes, there might be some utility to education. Of course, education these days does not really teach critical thinking. Rather, it teaches that one should not engage in critical thinking, for if one does, they might find the wrong answers. In terms of education for vocations, there is probably more merit there.
Anyway, there is a large segment of the population that for lack of better words, endeavors to be practical. That is, what is it that can obviously help me, now and in the near future. If education (e.g. the vocational type) was packaged as something with more prestige, something worthwhile doing, then men might be more inclined to do it. What many young men hear is that it is bachelors degree or bust; if you don’t get such a degree, you are nothing. So many men are not oriented to the university way of thinking; with so many trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
Short answer – lot of what is said about higher education is just plain BS.
Nor would the United States seem an especially likely candidate for a massive shedding of jobs due to the displacement of less-educated workers, for the simple reason that the U.S. workforce has always had one of the OECD’s very highest educational-attainment profiles.
So he is perplexed here. There are lots of aspects, but perhaps much of the education is not so good, and perhaps much of it is the the wrong domain.
On the other hand, labor-force participation rates for native-born, never-married prime-age male high-school dropouts are in an abysmal class all of their own
Well, maybe the fact that men don’t get married as much has big affect on there job status. This is worth exploring, but the author doesn’t. He might not like what he finds there. We all know the issues, but in the mainstream, they must never be mentioned.
What economists call “demand-side effects” cannot plausibly account for America’s overall men-without-work predicament — and might not even account for most of it. While more education may always be better than less, we cannot expect more education to solve a problem that a lack of education did not cause, and it is clear that male worklessness is due to much more than just a shortage of skills and training. We can discern a more realistic role for education if we consider other dimensions of the crisis: what economists would call the “supply-side effects” and “institutional effects.” In this taxonomy, the more relevant pieces of the puzzle are family structure, government-benefit dependence, and mass incarceration and felonization.
Well, free money is good. It is a bit harder for a guy to get it, but it is possible. Disability, mooching off the girlfriend’s benefits, small time illegal activities, etc. — it can be done.
He says lots more stuff; but one thing runs through it all — the idea of incentives, be it prestige, pride, respect, monetary value, regular sex, happy domestic life, etc. are missing. An economic analysis really should not miss these I would think.
Exit question — when (or if) will the reality of men’s situation break into the mainstream?
Addendum by Deti:
Men and Work?
Men have exactly two choices when it comes to work:
Work or starve. Work or die.
Now, having said that, to the article:
Things have definitely changed. In 1982-86 when I was in high school, I was in the “college bound” track. So i was expected to be admitted to a 4 year university somewhere and get at least a bachelor’s degree in something, like my parents before me and my maternal grandmother before them. It wasn’t even questioned. Men were either college bound, tradeschool/military bound, and unskilled/manual labor bound.
I remember bringing it up once…
“Mom, what if I don’t want to go to college?”
“Deti, you are GOING to college. You have to go. What the hell else are you going to do?”
“What if i don’t get in?”
“You’ll get in somewhere.”
I liked college, don’t get me wrong. It was just that there were no other real viable options for me.
Now? If I were coming out of high school now, there’s no way I’d go to college now. probably not even the high school with ashtrays that is our local community college. I’d probably get a CDL (that’s a commercial drivers license for you furriners) with as many endorsements as possible, and start driving professionally. i’d get licensed to drive anything street legal. Or get trained as a plumber or steamfitter or millwright or machinist. Maybe electrician, I don’t know. Possibly get trained as a police officer. Or go to college to major in law enforcement specifically to go into police work.
What else I think is funny is how everyone keeps skirting the issues. “why oh why are men not working!!”
What they are really saying is “why oh why are men not getting educated and trained for jobs where they will earn 500% of what they need so they can marry sluts (er, um) women, and support families??”
Um, yeah. Why should men do that? Why should a man get educated to that extent so he can attract a woman with beta bux, when that same woman gave it up to Fuckbuddy Rockbannddrummer and Alpha McGorgeous and Frank Fratboy for free?