Men, Work, and Change

For the last twenty five years, I have been concerned about the declining number of men working. The percentage of men 25-54 that are not working doubled since 1980.

For the past 60 years, the workforce participation rate for men has been falling. In 1950, 88.6 % of men worked, but today only 68% are gainfully employed.


The common answer is that cheap labor in foreign countries has taken almost all our manufacturing jobs. However, there is more to it; on August 18, 2015, the Wall Street Journal reported a study by the Georgetown University Center for Education and Workforce revealed that since the recession, the economy has added one million jobs requiring degrees or at least some college credit that paid more than $53,000 per year, and 800,000 jobs paying less than $32,000. Sadly, the economy has not created the middle income jobs lost in the recession: there are 900,000 fewer middle income jobs today than 2008. There has been some further decline in manufacturing, but many staff and service functions are provided by computers and farmed out to contract workers.

Why isn’t the economy generating more jobs that pay a middle income wage similar to those that have disappeared? The simple answer is employers do not have to hire people; automation has taken over more and more jobs. Computers are taking over routine mental and physical functions; even the traditional masculine job of truck driving which employs 3 million men is in for a change. Although it will take time, Daimler is developing a system of Semi-truck trains in which only the first truck would have a human driver. For every function transferred to computers, a human is without a job and the prestige of employment. Computers are not covered by health care or retirement.

But there are jobs. The Georgetown study also reported that by 2020, the US economy will generate 55 million job openings, 35% will requiring a bachelor’s degree, and 30% requiring some college or an associate’s degree, the remaining 35% will ask for high school degree or the equivalent.

By 2020, we will fail to find 5 million employees for the highest paying jobs that require degrees or some college. A significant number of these positions could be filled by men if they are prepared with college education since the fastest growing occupations will be in STEM fields, health care, and community service with employers seeking cognitive, communicative, and analytic skills, similar to those emphasized in an Fortune Magazine article by Geoff Colvin, “Humans Are Underrated.” He points out that in the long term, the skills that employers will need will be interpersonal, all right brain traits that today are found more often in women. Geoff Colvin claims this will be a good thing because, “The evidence is clear that the most effective groups are those whose members most strongly possess the most essential, deeply human abilities– empathy above all, social sensitivity, storytelling, collaborating, solving problems together, and building relationships.” Women are more often hired at entry level positions in healthcare, banking, and human resources.

Why are men less ready for “Twenty First Century Jobs”?

Men are not preparing as well as women are for the jobs coming on line. Last year the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that their survey of millennials showed that 32% of women and only 24% of men will earn bachelor’s degrees.

The Columbus Dispatch reported September 26th that because of the falling jobless rate and pay scales in Franklin County since 2000, the number of people poor or near poor has gone from 273,000 to 410, 000 a 50% increase. The decline in the unemployment rate is misleading because it only counts those looking for work and actually employed, including part time workers without regard to the compensation level, or the fact that many are underemployed.

In an article in Forbes by Alice G. Walton in 2012, she states “men in lower socioeconomic status … now have less access to jobs that allow expression of working-class…masculine identity and pride.” The author reports job loss is a, “double failure (of)… two central demands of the masculine role: being employed; and providing for the family.” Many men want to go back to their old incomes doing what they did, “in the old days.” Andrew Carnevale, an economist at Georgetown University said, “A lot of the jobs in the rearview mirror aren’t coming back.”

My fear, based on a life of observation, is when young men do not have a respected position in society, they cause trouble. How much more crime and violence will result by excluding them for the sake of profits from the productive side of our very profitable consumption society?

-Jack Riordan


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