September 5, 2016

Labor Day 2016. Idle Men. Millions of young males have left the workforce and civic life.

The Idle Army: America’s Unworking Men by Nicholas Eberstadt in the Wall Street Journal
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.

Received wisdom holds that the U.S. is at or near “full employment.”...Benchmarked against 1965, when American men were at genuine full employment, the “male jobs deficit” in 2015 would be nearly 10 million, even after taking into account an older population and more adults in college....

Or look at the fraction of American men age 20 and older without paid work. In the past 50 years it rose to 32% from 19%, and not mainly because of population aging. For prime working-age men, the jobless rate jumped to 15% from 6%. Most of the postwar surge involved voluntary departure from the labor force.
--
Not even in dysfunctional Greece or “lost generation” Japan has the male flight from work proceeded with such alacrity. The paradox is that Americans—those who do have jobs—are still among the rich world’s hardest-working people. No other developed society puts in such long hours, and at the same time supports such a large share of younger men neither holding jobs nor seeking them.
--
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.

There are the social effects, too. The male retreat from the labor force has exacerbated family breakdown, promoted welfare dependence and recast “disability” into a viable alternative lifestyle. Among these men the death of work seems to mean also the death of civic engagement, community participation and voluntary association.

In short, the American male’s postwar flight from work is a grave social ill. Strangely, nearly everyone—the news media, major political parties, intellectuals, business leaders, policy makers—has managed to overlook it. The urgency of the moment is to bring this invisible crisis out of the shadows.

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.
Posted by Jill Fallon at September 5, 2016 5:24 PM | Permalink