American Consequences - January 2018


And this is precisely the problem: For the genial indifference with which the rest of society has greeted the ever-greater absence of adult men from the productive economy is in itself powerful testimony that these men have become essentially dispensable . Another reason for the invisibility of the crisis is the historic postwar transformation in the nature of women’s work. Before World War II, the exclusive economic activity for the overwhelming majority of American women was unpaid labor at home. Today, the overwhelming majority of American women – including women with relatively young children – engage in at least some remunerated employment outside the family. Needless to say, that shift has opened up prospects for prosperity in the United States, as well as new horizons of economic independence and autonomy. The tremendous expansion of economic opportunities for America’s women made for a massive new supply of workers in the postwar economy. This enormous influx of new workers completely compensated for the decline in work rates for prime-age men – and then some. The progressive incorporation of ever-greater numbers of women into the workforce not only permitted overall work rates to rise even as male work rates were steadily falling, but naturally also changed the complexion of the population not at work. The prime-age population without paid employment has become ever more “male” over the decades since 1948.

Ever-greater numbers of working-age men simply have dropped out from the competition for jobs. These men have established a quintessentially new and alternative lifestyle to the age-old male quest for a paying job: Members of this caste can expect at least to scrape by in an employment- free existence, and membership in the caste is – in an important sense – voluntary. And this mass retreat from the work economy has been possible to ignore because the men in question are by and large socially invisible and inert: written off or discounted by the rest of society, and perhaps all too often by themselves. HOWDO MENWITHOUT WORK SUPPORT THEMSELVES? The short answer is, apparently, they don’t. Relatives and friends and the U.S. government float these long-term non- participants in the workforce, most of whom are doing little to improve themselves or their chances of employment.


(Hint: It’s not a decline in manufacturing jobs or a shift to a high-tech economy.) There is a remarkable linearity of the decline in labor-force participation rates for prime-age American men over the past fifty years. This great male flight from work has been almost totally un-influenced by economic fluctuations.

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