Men Not At Work
Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis is Nicholas Eberstadt’s latest work. The book is an extensive look at the statistics outlining a largely unseen phenomenon (and where I use the word phenomenon, Eberstadt uses crisis) in this country-working age men are increasingly withdrawing from the workforce. As Eberstadt writes [all quotes are from his book unless otherwise noted],
Between 1948 and 2015, the work rate for U.S. men twenty and older fell from 85.8 percent to 68.2 percent. Thus the proportion of American men twenty and older without paid work more than doubled, from 14 percent to almost 32 percent.
Though the reported unemployment rate has been trending below 5% (which is considered good), these individuals are not counted as they have “withdrawn” from the workforce.
“America’s great male flight from work began in earnest around 1965”, which is coincidentally (or perhaps not) the beginning of LBJ’s “Great Society” where he “declared war on poverty” and the beginning of a crime wave that swept the country.
This “phenomenon” is a uniquely American problem. The percentage of nonworking males is not seen in other countries. Again Eberstadt,
And so the puzzle: America has a more robust economy, a more flexible and dynamic labor market, and a more limited welfare state than any of these six countries. But it has failed to keep its younger men in the workforce at the level that these struggling nations (with the arguable exception of Italy) have achieved. Why?
Eberstadt does not give a reason. He laments that the statistics are very poor in relation to this problem which he finds remarkable. He does say, “An American man ages twenty-five-to-fifty-four was more likely to be an un-worker in 2015 if he (1) had no more than a high school diploma; (2) was not married and had no children or children who lived elsewhere; (3) was not an immigrant; or (4) was African American….”
“Having a background”, i.e. an arrest record, is a big, but not only, factor. The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world. As would be expected, finding employment with a felony record is extremely difficult. Citizens with a background are estimated at over 10% of the population. I volunteer at a halfway house helping recently released individuals find employment. Do not get me started on the difficulties. “But the economic redemption of former prisoners and convicts is not only a pragmatic objective: it is an ennobling moral goal for a forgiving people.” A documentary located here was a real paradigm shift for me.
The mind naturally wonders how these individuals support themselves. Wives and girlfriends shoulder a lot of the burden. And dependency on US disability programs is great. I remember seeing a 60 Minutes episode that reported in some small Appalachian towns is widely known not to go to Walmart on the days disability checks are mailed. It is just too crowded.
I did not see mention in the book any of the other following trends:
- The anticipated loss of jobs to robotics (I have seen estimates as high as 40%!). Again, statistics are poor of the effect technology will have on the worker,
- Demographics. The high birth rate that created the baby boomers has resulted in fewer, on a relative basis, younger workers (the main challenge of the Social Security system), and
- Increasing number of twenty-somethings that live “in their parent’s basement”, due in part, to the student loan burden.
Why does this matter? – Socially
Bluntly stated, leisure refines and elevates; idleness corrupts and degrades.
Distressingly, these nonworking men appear to shed adult responsibilities, are not involved in volunteer, religious activities, or educational opportunities, and in many cases, hooked on drugs. As Eberstadt has written elsewhere:
We already knew from other sources (such as BLS “time use” surveys) that the overwhelming majority of the prime-age men in this un-working army generally don’t “do civil society” (charitable work, religious activities, volunteering), or for that matter much in the way of child care or help for others in the home either, despite the abundance of time on their hands. Their routine, instead, typically centers on watching—watching TV, DVDs, Internet, hand-held devices, etc.—and indeed watching for an average of 2,000 hours a year, as if it were a full-time job. But Krueger’s study adds a poignant and immensely sad detail to this portrait of daily life in 21st-century America: In our mind’s eye we can now picture many millions of un-working men in the prime of life, out of work and not looking for jobs, sitting in front of screens—stoned.
Not working robs an individual of their sense of dignity. The consequences are not known, but a good outcome is hard to imagine.
Why does this matter? – Economically
It goes without saying, that nonworking individuals are supported by others. But also a nation’s growth has historically come from the productivity of its citizens. With so many not working, where is the growth to come from? This issue, among others, is why we remain conservative. Let us know if you would like us to analyze your portfolio with these issues in mind.