Monday, July 17, 2017

Why Aren't Men Working?

In a piece at First Things (subscription required) Irish writer John Waters cites some depressing statistics about male employment in the U.S. The good news is that there are plenty of jobs for people who want to work. The bad news is that evidently fewer men than ever want to work:
In a recent book, Men Without Work, Nicholas Eberstadt shows that, although unemployment in the U.S. has been falling in what he calls this “second Gilded Age,” there is simultaneously a “flight from work” by men in their prime.

Even while manufacturers are finding it difficult to fill vacancies, the percentage of working men between the ages of twenty-five and fifty-four is now lower than it was at the end of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Approximately one in eight men in their prime has left the workforce altogether, and about one in six is without paid work, a trend that has been visible since the mid-1960s. The graph of this male exodus from the workplace is an almost straight upward line, regardless of booms or recessions, indicating that weakening market demand is not the critical factor.

Nearly seven million American men in their prime have left behind—it seems of their own volition—the idea of trading their skills and talents in the marketplace, and many have turned their backs on all forms of commitment and responsibility. Some are ex-cons, but the greater part is composed of single men without parental responsibilities and with limited formal education, a significant quotient of these being African Americans.

Marriage trumps race as an indicator of employment, as does being a recent immigrant. For every man in his prime deemed unemployed, there are three others who are neither working nor looking for work. Almost three in five of these men are receiving at least one disability benefit, a factor that Eberstadt concedes may not be driving the phenomenon but is certainly financing it.
Men who marry or who have taken the trouble to immigrate are much less likely to be unemployed than those who eschew marriage. This isn't surprising, but it is distressing. How are these millions of single men surviving? Who's paying their room board and medical expenses? The answer, of course, is those who do work. It's very kind of those struggling to eke out a living for their own families to turn over a chunk of their paycheck to subsidize those whom Waters describes thus:
We observe, then, the depths of an existential rather than an economic or purely social crisis, with most of these men wasting away for an average of 2,100 hours a year in front of screens, binging on TV, pornography, sugar, and painkillers, no longer feeling that America has a place for their humanity. They don’t do civic society, religion, or volunteerism.
Actually, I'm not sure if that last clause in the first sentence is accurate. I doubt these men feel anything of the sort. I suspect rather that they simply don't care. Men who aren't willing to commit to family, church, or community aren't likely to care about much else beyond themselves and certainly don't care whether "America has a place for their humanity".

Waters concludes his treatment of Eberstadt's book with this:
If 1965 work rates pertained in the U.S. today there would be approximately 10 million more men with paid work than there are now. ­He professes to find this baffling, given that national wealth has doubled since the turn of the millennium. He expresses ­similar incomprehension about the fact that, ­globalization and deindustrialization notwithstanding, this precise syndrome has not afflicted other Western ­societies to anything like the same extent. He calls it the “quiet catastrophe,” ignored by politicians and commentators.
Little wonder the catastrophe is ignored by politicians and commentators. If a conservative politician were to call attention to some of these facts he'd doubtless be excoriated as a bigot, or an elitist, or a racist and remanded to the re-education camps we euphemistically call sensitivity training.

Nor are progressives likely to speak out too loudly about the calamity that's been visited upon us since for fifty years or so many of these folks have been working like Stakhanovites to undo the American family. They've largely succeeded, at least with the lower socio-economic classes, and as Charles Murray points out in his book Coming Apart, the results are indeed devastating.

Usually, people responsible for a catastrophe don't have too much to say about the damage they've inflicted.