This is part of a series of posts this week that relate specifically to men in modern society, including fatherhood. If all goes as planned I hope to post at least one item a day between now and Fathers’ Day that relate to the issue of manhood in our society.
I have been recently reading a very intriguing book by Nicholas Eberstadt titled Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis. This is not a book about ideology or with any pointed agenda. It is a look at statistics that are unintentionally hidden from the public view and apparently from most political causes. Eberstadt is an economist. (I always check out the authors I am reading when their statistics and arguments are as persuasive as what he demonstrates in this book.) He works for the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank out of Washington DC.
Don’t be bothered by the “conservative” tag there. This book is not dogma.
Eberstadt puts forward the convincing and overwhelming statistical evidence that we are experiencing a massive crisis within the American work force which will ultimately have significant cultural repercussions – if this has not already started. Millions of men are missing from the American workforce. They aren’t simply unemployed. They do not show up in the unemployed numbers and data that the government reports throughout the year. These men are invisible to the data we rely on to assess the health of the US economy because they are neither employed nor are they looking to be employed. They have either given up on being contributing members to the American economy and society or they never tried to be included in the first place.
Think about that for a moment!
In my research on traditional roles and understandings of masculinity or manhood, the most common attributes traditionally associated with “being a man” were provider and protector. A real man provides for his family. A real man protects his family.
According to Eberstadt’s research however, a growing number of American men are no longer seeking to provide for their families. They have given up! This suggests they may also lack the desire and drive to protect their families as well (although the book has so far not touched on that concept).
These facts may not come as a surprise to some readers. They did not surprise me. What DID surprise me was the magnitude of this reality. Below are some of my notes from Eberstadt’s book. Keep in mind as you read these that we are at almost full employment in the United States right now. These are not statistics form the past recession. These are current statistics that demonstrate a ballooning trend since the end of the 1960s.
The fraction of US men from ages twenty-to-sixty four not at work is 2.3 times higher than it had been in 1948.
The work rates of men today are lower than they were in specific measurable periods of the Great Depression.
In the past two generations the fraction of men without jobs of any sort in the broad twenty-to-sixty-four age group rose from 10% to almost 22%.
In the decade of the 1960s, monthly averages indicated that one in sixteen prime-age American men were not at work. By the 1990s, the ratio had jumped to one in eight. In the current decade the ratio has dropped below one in six for an average of 17.5% of prime-age men with no paid work in the past month.
Between 1948 and 1965, the absolute number of prime-age men outside the workforce rose only very slightly, from 935,000 to just under 1.1 million. Between 1965 and 2015, however, these totals exploded. By 2015, the number of prime-age inactive men was over 7 million – 6.5 times higher than it had been half a century earlier.
For fifty years the numbers of prime-age men neither working nor looking for work has grown more than three times faster – nearly four times faster – than the number who are working or looking for work.
By 2015, there were on average three un-working prime-age men for each prime-age man out of work but looking for work in any given month. At no point in the past two decades – not a single month – have the unemployed exceeded the economically inactive among America’s prime age men.
I could keep transcribing my notes but that should prove the point. This is enormous! What is more disturbing than this are the potential societal costs for an army of men, this large and growing, who are jobless and not seeking a job. The future chapters of the book (the ones I have not yet completed) suggest the author will offer some thoughts on this point of the situation.
In the early 1990s, when I was still in high school I read another book titled Why America Doesn’t Work by Jack Eckerd and Chuck Colson. The subtitle captures the essence of the book How the Decline of the Work Ethic is Hurting Your Family and Future – and What You Can Do. I don’t remember the whole of what the authors were presenting here except that the book was influential in shaping my own worldviews regarding the value of productivity and work to developing a healthy human life.
I recall their discussion regarding programs they had run in America’s prisons. Wherever work programs were put into place, recidivism (people returning to prison after being set free) decreased. The point was simple. Men need a purpose. They need to be productive. When a man is productive his contribution and function within society increases and this benefits himself, his home and the community he lives within. When we remove a sense of productivity from a man’s life we see dysfunction, depression and despair rise dramatically.
So what does the future look like, not only for men but for the whole of our society when we have this swelling issue of unproductive, un-purposed men hiding beneath the surface? What will be the implications for homes and communities as more and more men disappear from the work force, or the willing to work force of American society?