Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Great Dropout

What happens when men quit working? A political economist asked this question in a Wall Street Journal column last September.   It seems more and more men have quit working.  They aren't going to school or obtaining training for a new job either.  They just drop out and sponge.  Nicholas Eberstadt writes:


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.

This is arguably a crisis, but it is hardly ever discussed in the public square. Received wisdom holds that the U.S. is at or near “full employment.” Most readers have probably heard this, perhaps from the vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, who said in a speech last week that “it is a remarkable, and perhaps underappreciated, achievement that the economy has returned to near-full employment in a relatively short time after the Great Recession.”

Near-full employment? In 2015 the work rate (the ratio of employment to population) for American males age 25 to 54 was 84.4%. That’s slightly lower than it had been in 1940, 86.4%, at the tail end of the Great Depression. 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.

Until roughly the outbreak of World War II, working-age American men fell into basically two categories: either holding a paid job or unemployed. There was no “third way” for able-bodied males. Today there is one: neither working nor seeking work—that is, men who are outside the labor force altogether. Unlike in the past, the U.S. is now evidently rich enough to carry them, after a fashion. The no-work life hardly consigns these men to destitution.

This is at least somewhat true throughout the affluent West, but the U.S. has led the pack. 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.

Who are America’s new cadre of prime-age male unworkers? They tend to be: 1) less educated; 2) never married; 3) native born; and 4) African-American. But those categories intersect in interesting ways. Black married men are more likely to be in the workforce than unmarried whites. Immigrants are more likely to be working or job-hunting than native-born Americans, regardless of ethnicity. High-school dropouts from abroad are as likely to be working or looking for work as native-born college grads.

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.

Clearly big changes in the U.S. economy, including the decline of manufacturing and the Big Slowdown since the start of the century, have played a role. But something else is at work, too: the male flight from work has been practically linear over the past two generations, irrespective of economic conditions or recessions.

What we might call “sociological” factors are evident, not least the tremendous rise in unworking men who draw from government disability and means-tested benefit programs. 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.

Regardless of its cause, this new normal is inimical to America’s national interests. Declining labor-force participation and falling work rates have contributed to slower economic growth and widening gaps in income and wealth. Slower growth in turn reduces tax revenue and increases budgetary pressures, producing higher deficits and national debt. Unworking men have increased poverty in the U.S., not least among the great many children whose fathers are without jobs.

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.

Mr. Eberstadt is a political economist at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. This is adapted from his book “Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis,” out this month from Templeton Press.
Something to ponder. 

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is one motive behind the now-doomed "ban the box" movement, to prevent employers from asking about non-violent felonies on applications. Barring convicts from honest jobs has a predictable result - just part of the American tendency against rehabilitation and towards treating convicts as eternal outcasts. (Rehab is difficult, but we're not even trying.)

Burke said...

You've set up a kind of body v. soul debate this morning. Leary v. Pollard. One Doctor: Tune in, turn on, drop out. The other Doctor: Tune in, turn on (in a spiritual way), live an unselfish life. The trick is to follow both at the same time.

Anonymous said...

By all means, let's finally recognize as a society just how important is meaningful work for men ....... In the meantime, the Bezoses of the world promote automation that eliminates the vast majority of labor opportunities.

Anonymous said...

Out here in Madison everyone works, Especially at my favorite restaurant: Golden Corral.

Anonymous said...

If you're healthy and you do not work, you do not eat!!! Simple!!!

Anonymous said...

People have "not worked" or "under worked" for years.

Life style choice.....some people call it "living"

Bernie's Clown Circus Is Out In Full.. said...

We have no more obligation to ignore an applicant's felony record than we do to patronize the local hardware store.

Eric Fleming, a once popular state representative, used to sponsor a (failed) bill annually that would do such foolishness as prohibiting an employer from protecting his business by not hiring ex-cons.

We can NOT afford to endanger our potential customers by putting people on the payroll who have shown a clear tendency to rape, assault, steal, burglarize, fornicate and molest. How much more clear can I be.

To hell with you Fondren-Do-Gooder-Types who foster the idea of putting the fox back in the hen-house just to see if his counseling sessions have worked.

PittPanther said...

Unfortunately, as soon as you quoted the line that said the underemployed tend towards African American, a big chunk of your readers immediately tuned out. "Not my problem..."

I would gather that a chunk of these underemployed men (regardless of race) are employed, in the underground economy.

Can't Be Admitting The Truth.. said...

Pitty-Pander: What issue do you have with the truth? Do you really prefer that we gloss over facts in these discussions? Tuned out? So, the only way you will tune-in is if things are watered down to make it appear that felons, convicts, current inmates, the unemployed and 'the under-employed' have zero demographic? Wake the hell up, man. You can ignore the demographics in Mississippi or you can ignore them in Pittsburgh or you can ignore them nationally. Pick your poison.

Anonymous said...

atlas shrugs?

Anonymous said...

Eric Fleming, a once popular state representative ...

Hardly. Put the bong down.

Anonymous said...

Who is John Galt?

Anonymous said...

a big chunk of your readers immediately tuned out. "Not my problem..."

Pitt right on time with the straw man. Make it about race; better yet, impute racism to people whose thoughts you're able to read.

This is an American cultural problem. Quit getting your panties in a wad.

Offer an explanation, a counterargument, a solution. Some analysis.

Or, just preen and accuse your imagined foes of racism.

Anonymous said...

I am part of the African American community and most young men do not work nor are they interested in it. Their momma's got a good living from the government and they attach themselves to girls who do the same. These women get more money that a school teacher with 25 years. The men sponge off of them. That accounts for no marriage. Married black men with wives and children act like white people with families. They provide. Exceptions with both races but this is the way it leans.

Johnny Weir said...

Good post 7:27 PM.
Do you think this was one of the reason
Trump was elected?
The social economic reality of the black community.

Anonymous said...

Its a free country, however, are we a liberal democracy, a consumer economy, or welfare state? One thing is certain the workforce is shrinking due to higher productivity, offshoring and automation. President Trump is seeking to halt the offshoring, but he cannot stop companies from making robots and slave-driving the workforce.

The social dysfunction associated with unemployment is really hurting Mississippi. Construction jobs, when available, tide men over for a short time. Divorce, mental illness, and substance abuse suck huge numbers of the workforce in during the lulls in building cycle. We have been stuck in the downside for almost a decade.

Anonymous said...

Construction jobs, when available, tide men over for a short time.

Construction jobs, when available, are too often going to illegal aliens.

Anonymous said...

Eric Fleming was indeed 'once popular'. Once popular with those who elected him, just as
Bennie, Tomie and Stokes are 'popular'. No bong needed.

Topo said...

Burke, as ever, you want it both ways. "The trick is to follow both (T. Leary and Preacher P) at the same time." ????? The rabbit in the middle of the road, quivering, undecided which way to run as the car approaches...gets smushed like a bug. Dash left, dash right, but dash somewhere! Dithering in the middle like Hamlet does nobody any good, least of all oneself.

Work is certainly boring, as few would deny, but necessary if one wants nice things a shade or two above what the government doles out. But now that we have (d)evolved, as a society, from one wherein a "jobless bum" was sneered at, to one wherein *dolce fa niente* is the acceptable norm, in certain strata. And II am not referring to the lucky trust-fund-baby class...

Anonymous said...

There is a interesting assumption in the article that men are not working because they don't become destitute. And, another oddity is the comparison to 1965 statistics when women were not in the workforce in such great quantities. Nor is there any mention of the loss of jobs overseas.

I'd like better research as to why this problem exists.

How many men are working " off the books"? How many do you see selling vegetables ,fruit or wood out of a truck in MS? How many of you go to parties with bartenders and music and food and know whether the people are being paid in cash?

How many men are at home with parents or " stay at home Dads"? How many men have been fired after a 10 to 20 years of work to cut costs and find being rehired impossible because of entry " age" or being " overqualified"? We know that employers are hiring two part time employees to do the work of one full time employee to cut costs by avoiding benefits and we know that full time employees are now often working two jobs and putting in 60 hours instead of 40.

This article also overlooks the growing problem with drug addiction and that the autism increase is hitting the working age group.

It's nice and simplistic to look at the " bums" and " thugs" that have always existed in society and suggest that government assistance supports them in a comfortable life style.

If you are termed " disabled adult" and had worked, you might receive $1200 and change a month. If you are a " disabled adult " who never worked, the average payment is $727. If you don't meet the qualifications for disability, you get nothing. These are national averages from the 2013 report. If you think of those amounts in terms of paying rent and utilities and transportation, please tell me how , even in MS, that doesn't come pretty damn close to being " destitute" in any city where there might be jobs?




Anonymous said...

Social welfare is dependency with a political coloring. Most state constitutions and even local zoning language will include the phrase "to promote the general welfare, public health, morals, etc." In modern times the social contract is hardly mentioned. Our state never chose to called itself "The Commonwealth of Mississippi". Mississippians have this love-hate relationship with state power. In industrial economies the state government itself was elevated to be a check on the railroad corporations and ruling class because the business interests just wore out and discarded the workers. In the modern consumer society the same occurs, but everyone gets some disposable income and the abundance finally bankrupts and generally sickens the masses.

Anonymous said...


I AM CURIOUS WHERE THE YO YO LIVES THAT SAYS THERE IS A GOLDEN CORRAL IN MADISON?

Boom Boxes On The Roof.. said...

I'm skeptical of the claim that during lulls in 'the construction cycle' (it's not a cycle to begin with), able bodied men in demonstrable numbers sink in to the abyss of mental illness.

But, It's become real popular in this state to piss and moan about the imaginary crisis of people bouncing off the walls of mental illness in the new Trumpian society. If we had elected one of the socialist candidates, we would not be having these issues. In fact we would have a glut of activity in the construction business with full employment of incoming illegals.

Anonymous said...

Once they stop working, they are no longer men.

Anonymous said...

"I am part of the African American community and most young men do not work nor are they interested in it. Their momma's got a good living from the government and they attach themselves to girls who do the same. These women get more money that a school teacher with 25 years. The men sponge off of them. That accounts for no marriage. Married black men with wives and children act like white people with families. They provide. Exceptions with both races but this is the way it leans.
March 26, 2017 at 7:27 PM"

Probably one of the most educated and lucid comments I've read about this topic and as an AA woman who has worked since the age of 15, my husband also, I just could not wrap my head around just how these guys are able to mooch off others, particularly women! I was raised with my active father in our home and so was my husband, my parents and his held good jobs, and so do my husband and I, but just like anyone else, we WORKED to live the life we do now. We're NOT rich, but we have the comforts we need! I just don't understand the mentality that says I'll pop babies for a check and then when some low life, dead beat pays me any attention, usually on the 1st or 3rd, I'll pay his way! Sickening! My husband provides for us and I CHOOSE to work to help! My husband does not complain, and we're raising our son to be the exact same way! There is so much pride and accomplishment in providing for yourself. Monsters of each race have been created by this system!

Anonymous said...

In Mississippi, farming and construction employ many unskilled. Farming including poultry, forestry, catfish, etc. is not cyclical where building is. Both construction and farming have more health hazards with resulting disability.

Anonymous said...

The golden Corral is in Flowood, where it belongs, close to its customer base. Flowood's finest restaurant.

Anonymous said...

7:20. Interesting that you're scratching your head about why 1965 statistics and then quoting transfer payment amounts to the dollar. It's like you can't put together something that happened in say, um, 1964-1965 that might possibly be a contributing factor?

I hope that LBJ is rotting in Hell. Continuing to insure that places have zero opportunity, and paying to house them and feed them at poverty level just so they'll go once every two years and pull a lever for you is immoral and disgusting. Defending our 'social safety net' to make sure that the right thinkers return to DC to plunder the treasury and leverage their votes to enrich themselves is as well. Slavery is alive and well. We just switched from the stick to the carrot.

Anonymous said...

A lot of great points on this thread.

There are so many factors now, especially for white males that they never had to encounter in the workforce.

White men now HAVE to face competition with black males (I say black instead of African-American, because I hate the term - because no other groups are expected identify as a hyphenated American) Hispanic males, Asian males, and women of all ethnicity's - which is something ALL men have to compete against now. Whereas for a brief moment after segregation, there were only some jobs that were exclusive to men.

Then on the flip-side there are some jobs some men just will not take because they feel they are above the working conditions - administrative assistants, clerks, fast food, retail, etc etc.

Additionally, we have an evolved work environment. We are now in the technology age, automation has eliminated the human element. Jobs in natural resources, are becoming more and more competitive. If you are not an engineer, in medical field, service industry, first responder (medic, police, military, fire fighter) - its tough treading in this day and age.

Anonymous said...

8:42

WORD!!!

Anonymous said...

9:01, bless your heart. You and your husband continue the flame. But we are outnumbered... we do what we can.

Anonymous said...

There are deadbeats in all shapes, sizes, and colors. And there are those who turn EVERYTHING into a race issue (ahem, PittPanther).

When government makes it advantageous to eschew work, then many will. This happened in the 1960s when benevolent legislation was passed to help single mothers, making it "better" (from a benefits POV) to be a single mom than a married mom. We see the results to this day.

I have known a number of people who are on disability. These are able bodied people who may have hurt their back loading a truck, but can certainly work a cash register or answer a telephone. However, work jeopardizes their disability payments, so they continue not working and make peace with the lesser lifestyle.

A TON of these guys live off a woman. I know a guy whose brother is on his third live-in girlfriend. She works at a law firm as a paralegal and he sits at home collecting disability, surfing the web, watching TV, and posting to Facebook about how Trump will "drain the swamp" by getting rid of the deadbeats. He is so deep in his behavior (and is enabled by his girl), that he fails to see the contradiction he is living.

We need to slowly make it less advantageous to sit at home, especially for those who can work. Until we do, this will get worse.

Anonymous said...

9:01

Bless you! You are part of the hope for all of us.

Sure wish there was a visible platform for folks like you and your husband to covey the positive aspects of having a family unit and the satisfaction it brings... rich or poor.

Anonymous said...

@ March 27, 2017 at 10:14 AM

Thank you! We're not perfect, no one is, but we do the best we can each day to provide our son with love and expectations on behavior and grades. I know it may seem we are few in number, but I find on the flip side, that too many of us who could help, are only far too concerned for ourselves. This won't work. There's a selfish mantra that's been ringing in this land for years. I've got mine, get yours. While I agree that the able bodied should NOT receive disability with NO work requirements, I also believe a realistic overhaul of these social services is needed but America is guilty for creating bums. When it seems more profitable to a young woman to have babies and collect checks for them, TANF, SNAP, etc, we've created monsters and again folks, I've seen some of EVERYBODY doing it. Then the offspring of these dead beats. How do you think they're being raised?

Anonymous said...

Johnny Weir said...

Good post 7:27 PM.
Do you think this was one of the reason
Trump was elected?
The social economic reality of the black community.

In some people's minds they may have voted for Trump in an effort to stop the abuses but I do not believe it is the majority of the reason. The current Democrat leadership is not the Democratic Party of Old. They are now calling good evil and evil good. They seem to hate the rightous and promote the vile. I could go on but this line of reasoning seems to do no good and only frustrates the speaker. I do know that the policies of the federal government have decimated the majority of the black community. Much of what we have is not earned and that hurts a people in their hearts. Set asides have made so many feel accomplished who have achieved nothing. I have no solutions as I am almost out of the game and carry no sway with the community at large.

Anonymous said...

i have see 100s of instances where dirtbag husbands and friend boys live off of a woman. tats the biggest reason for your dropout rate. they generosity of women never ceases to amaze me.

Anonymous said...

i have see 100s of instances where dirtbag husbands and friend boys live off of a woman. tats the biggest reason for your dropout rate. they generosity of women never ceases to amaze me.

Anonymous said...

This may be a little extreme, but I'm in total support of making two years of service to your country completely mandatory upon high school graduation. This could be in either the military, peace corps, or community service. They'd receive a skill, living wage, and tuition upon completion. I've been in the Air Force for 13 years, and it's truly amazing how serving something greater than yourself can change your mindset and work ethic. I personally believe that's also the difference in the research above with married vs never married males: serving something larger than yourself.

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