Summary: America is changing in ways not easy to see. One is the exodus of men from the labor force, changing both our economy and society. Today’s post looks at the facts. Tomorrow’s gives a shocking explanation, different than the ideologically pleasing stories given by Left and Right.
“Work is the grand cure of all the maladies and miseries that ever beset mankind — honest work, which you intend getting done.”
— The Inaugural Address of Thomas Carlyle as Lord Rector of the University of Edinburgh (1866). This belief changed the West. It will change again when no longer believed.
Nicholas Eberstadt wrote Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis to warn us of a major problem. He gave a summary in the Wall Street Journal: “The Idle Army: America’s Unworking Men” — “Millions of young males have left the workforce and civic life. Full employment? The U.S. isn’t even close.”
“Labor Day is an appropriate moment to reflect on a quiet catastrophe: the collapse, over two generations, of work for American men. During the past half-century, work rates for U.S. males spiraled relentlessly downward. America is now home to a vast army of jobless men who are no longer even looking for work — roughly seven million of them age 25 to 54, the traditional prime of working life.
“…There are also the barriers to work for America’s huge pool of male ex-prisoners and felons not behind bars — a poorly tracked cohort that accounts for one adult male in eight in the civilian population, excluding those in jail now.
“…What do unworking men do with their free time? Sadly, not much that’s constructive. About a tenth are students trying to improve their circumstances. But the overwhelming majority are what the British call NEET: ‘neither employed nor in education or training.’ Time-use surveys suggest they are almost entirely idle — helping out around the house less than unemployed men; caring for others less than employed women; volunteering and engaging in religious activities less than working men and women or unemployed men. For the NEETs, ‘socializing, relaxing and leisure’ is a full-time occupation, accounting for 3,000 hours a year, much of this time in front of television or computer screens.
“…Imagine how different America would be today if another roughly 10 million men held paying jobs. It is imperative for the future health of the country to make a determined and sustained effort to bring these detached men back—into the workplace, into their families, into civil society. “
His book got a lot of attention, such as — “Men not at work: America’s hidden unemployment” by Larry Summers in the Financial Times. “America’s Lost Workers” by Jeff Madrick in the New York Review of Books. Also see the follow-up discussion between the author and Madrick. “Enduring mystery of US recovery: men without work” by Simon Montlake in the Christian Science Monitor. The right-wing hack view: “Why Are Millions of Men Choosing Not to Work?” by George Will in the National Review — “American men who choose not to work are choosing lives of quiet self-emasculation.”