In his book “Men Without Work,” author Nicholas Eberstadt examines a less-discussed phenomenon in the post-2008 reality of the American economy: those American men between ages 25 and 54 who are not just unemployed, but have left the American workforce entirely. Eberstadt estimates the total number of men in this class to be roughly 7 million.
These men, who are in most cases able-bodied, able-minded and capable of doing many jobs, have been affected by the fallout of the recession of 2008 and by labor trends which have worked against them even as other demographic groups have made tremendous gains.
As many people are aware, rosy employment numbers put out by the Obama administration have disguised unpleasant realities of lower-wage jobs in service sectors (read: waiters and bartenders) that have substituted for labor reductions and layoffs in manufacturing jobs in the wake of NAFTA and other free-trade agreements that have seen many blue-collar jobs shipped overseas permanently.
Globalization has been a huge factor in the types of employment that are often left for workers in factory towns where big plants have closed, reduced operations or simply outsourced their labor.
Politicians are far from done with this trend, with a “race to the bottom” continuing among many countries in the global economy that will be enabled to an even greater degree in the future by new free-trade agreements such as the Transpacific Partnership (TPP), Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and Trade in Services Agreement (TISA).
Eberstadt stresses that even though work has grown less demanding physically and in terms of the number of hours worked per week, competition for jobs has grown.
Increased immigration over the last 20 years has accelerated the trend, and new studies point to the fact that less of these new immigrants make up the ranks of the non-working. Eberstadt writes that foreign-born males comprised one-fifth of job holders from ages 25 to 54 but only one-sixth of those not seeking work.
The push by Silicon Valley for foreign-born information workers with H1-B visas, who will accept less pay than their American-born equivalents, has driven many of these technology companies to financially support political candidates (largely Democratic) who will authorize these new free-trade agreements allowing for more such workers.
Over the last 50 years, the entry of more women into the nation’s workforce has also had an impact. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2000 and 2010, the net number of women entering the U.S. labor market was two million while the net number of men was just 54,000.
Job categories dominated by men prior to 2000 versus those dominated by women by 2010 included tax preparers, writers, press relations managers and dispatchers among numerous other fields.
To be sure, one other important factor to consider with many of these non-workers is that a large percentage of them have had brushes with the law, including time spent in prison. Within the African-American community, that percentage can run from one-quarter to one-third of all men aged 20 to 34. Many of these men are unmarried and undereducated.
What’s saddest of all is that instead of being productive with their time, most of these non-workers waste huge amounts of it. On average, non-working men spend an astonishing five and a half hours per day watching television and movies — three more hours on average than their working counterparts.
One may be tempted to ask how these people survive financially. Eberstadt explains that the vast majority of them are either supported by someone in their household who is employed or they’re assisted by government programs such as disability payments and food stamps. As many as 63 percent of non-working men fall into the latter category.
As Eberstadt writes, “Today’s no-work life is hardly a pathway to economic success, [but] neither does it consign the growing numbers of no-work men to a life of destitution and ruin.” Instead, it commits them to a sort of fiscal purgatory — too poor to be able to finance entrepreneurial efforts that might allow them to escape their non-working status, but not desperate enough to motivate themselves to effect change.
Given Democratic proclivities for maintaining or exacerbating the economic status quo, solutions for these non-workers from progressives and liberals do not seem apparent on the horizon. And in the meantime, the drag on the country’s economy created by this group — in terms of resources consumed, systemic health care costs, losses of tax revenue and GNP shortfall — is growing as their numbers grow, which they are.
At some point, politicians — especially conservatives — will need to wake up and realize that the economic and psychic costs of these non-workers to the country are greater than the tax gains received from companies which have profited from their exclusion from the nation’s labor force.