Thursday, June 20, 2013
Trends in the Data
I have seen the graphs tracking the trends. Some of the numbers are presented in Men are Disappearing From the Workforce by Tami Luhby. The participation rate for men ages 25 to 54 peaked in 1956 at 97.7% but has gradually drifted down to 88.4% by the end of last year. We all know that the kind of jobs traditionally performed by men such as construction and factory work have taken a beat down over the last two decades, but the article reports that the percentage of college educated men in the workforce is also on the decline. The participation rate of those holding at least a bachelor’s degree dropped from 87.2% in 1992 to 80.2% in May 2013. This hard for me to believe but those are the numbers that are reported. We all know that at one time any college degree could get some kind of a white collar job in an office, but many of those midlevel jobs have been replaced by computers. There is an aspect to these disturbing trends that I have never really considered. I knew that our country has a growing prison population. However, I was shocked to learn that the British newspaper The Daily Mail reports that 1 out of every 100 Americans are in prison. Over 90% of prison inmates are men. Luhby reports that by 2004 1.2% of white men and 9% of black men born shortly after WW II (the baby boom) had served time in prison. The rates of incarceration for those born in the late 1970s? 3.3% for white men and an astonishing 20.7% of black men have served time in prison. Almost all of these men will be released back into the general population. Most of them will have no job skills. There are a large number of jobs that require background checks or security clearances. The former convict, even if he had the skills could not qualify for these jobs. CNN reports that in 1982 1.9% of working age men received disability benefits. In 2012 3.1% of American men are on disability. Luhby reports that in the first quarter of 2013 only 2.2% of those on disability left the program. Most sources estimate that about 10% of those collecting disability checks are guilty of fraud. Even if that estimate is true the growth in these numbers is difficult to explain especially in the light of fewer jobs in fields that are accident prone such as mining and manufacture. Many men, it seems, have just given up. High structural unemployment and diminishing numbers of full time jobs that pay a decent salary, not to mention a prison record are causing large numbers of American men to just quit trying to find work. The long term social consequences can’t be good. Women don’t want to marry men who don’t want to even look for a job. I have no doubt this fact contributes to the large number of women who are struggling to care for a family as a single parent. The odds against these children are pretty high. It has been said that, “An idle mind is the Devil’s workshop and that idle hands are the Devil’s tools.” This is true. Unemployed unmarried men, particularly unemployed unmarried young men are a socially destabilizing force in any culture. It seems to me that rebuilding job opportunities for the average man remains our nation’s most urgent political, social, and financial problem.