our tradition; it is subversive of our national ethos, and arguably even of our civilization. For fifty years the numbers of prime-age men neither working nor looking for work has grown almost four times faster than the number who are working or looking for work. Between 1965 and 2015, the share of the civilian non-institutional male population working or looking for work spiraled downward almost without stop. The “labor force participation rate” (or “LFPR” – job holders and job seekers) for prime-age men fell from an average of 96.6% in 1965 to just 88.2% in 2015. (According to the latest available “jobs report” figures, it is 88.5% today.) Expressed another way, the proportion of economically inactive American men of prime working age leapt from 3.4% in 1965 to 11.8% in 2015, and remains at 11.5% today. At no point in the past two decades – not for a single month – have the unemployed exceeded the economically inactive among America’s cohort of prime-age men. Even in the depths of the Great Recession, America tallied more men who were completely inactive economically than who were unemployed and looking for work. WHY DOESN’T THIS SEEM TO BOTHER US? So very new and unfamiliar is this crisis that it has until now very largely gone un-noticed and un-remarked upon. Our news media, our pundits, and our major political parties have somehow managed to overlook this extraordinary dislocation almost altogether.
The collapse of work for America’s men is manifestly a crisis for our nation – but it is a largely invisible crisis. It is almost never discussed in the public square. Somehow, we as a nation have managed to ignore this problem for decades, even as it has steadily worsened. There is perhaps no other instance in the modern American experience of a problem of such enormous consequence receiving so very little consideration by concerned citizens, intellectuals, business leaders, and policymakers.
America is now home to an ever-growing army of jobless men no longer even looking for work – over 7 million between ages 25 and 55, the traditional prime of working life.
One reason the phenomenon has been possible to overlook is because there have been no obvious outward signs of national distress attending the American male’s massive and continuing postwar exodus from paid employment: no national strikes, no great riots, no angry social paroxysms. And America today is rich: by all indications, getting even richer. So the end of work for a large, and steadily growing, share of working- age American men has been met to date with public complacency, in part because we evidently can afford to do so.
76 January 2018
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