[Marxism] The Vanishing Male Worker: How America Fell Behind

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Dec 12 04:45:07 MST 2014

A useful article marred by this idiocy:

"And technology has made unemployment less lonely. Tyler Cowen, an 
economist at George Mason University, argues that the Internet allows 
men to entertain themselves and find friends and sexual partners at a 
much lower cost than did previous generations."


NY Times, Dec. 12 2014
The Vanishing Male Worker: How America Fell Behind
by Binyamin Appelbaum

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Frank Walsh still pays dues to the International 
Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, but more than four years have passed 
since his name was called at the union hall where the few available jobs 
are distributed. Mr. Walsh, his wife and two children live on her 
part-time income and a small inheritance from his mother, which is 
running out.

Sitting in the food court at a mall near his Maryland home, he sees that 
some of the restaurants are hiring. He says he can’t wait much longer to 
find a job. But he’s not ready yet.

“I’d work for them, but they’re only willing to pay $10 an hour,” he 
said, pointing at a Chick-fil-A that probably pays most of its workers 
less than that. “I’m 49 with two kids — $10 just isn’t going to cut it.”

Working, in America, is in decline. The share of prime-age men — those 
25 to 54 years old — who are not working has more than tripled since the 
late 1960s, to 16 percent. More recently, since the turn of the century, 
the share of women without paying jobs has been rising, too. The United 
States, which had one of the highest employment rates among developed 
nations as recently as 2000, has fallen toward the bottom of the list.

As the economy slowly recovers from the Great Recession, many of those 
men and women are eager to find work and willing to make large 
sacrifices to do so. Many others, however, are choosing not to work, 
according to a New York Times/CBS News/Kaiser Family Foundation poll 
that provides a detailed look at the lives of the 30 million Americans 
25 to 54 who are without jobs.

Many men, in particular, have decided that low-wage work will not 
improve their lives, in part because deep changes in American society 
have made it easier for them to live without working. These changes 
include the availability of federal disability benefits; the decline of 
marriage, which means fewer men provide for children; and the rise of 
the Internet, which has reduced the isolation of unemployment.

At the same time, it has become harder for men to find higher-paying 
jobs. Foreign competition and technological advances have eliminated 
many of the jobs in which high school graduates like Mr. Walsh once 
could earn $40 an hour, or more. The poll found that 85 percent of 
prime-age men without jobs do not have bachelor’s degrees. And 34 
percent said they had criminal records, making it hard to find any work.

The resulting absence of millions of potential workers has serious 
consequences not just for the men and their families but for the nation 
as a whole. A smaller work force is likely to lead to a slower-growing 
economy, and will leave a smaller share of the population to cover the 
cost of government, even as a larger share seeks help.

“They’re not working, because it’s not paying them enough to work,” said 
Alan B. Krueger, a leading labor economist and a professor at Princeton. 
“And that means the economy is going to be smaller than it otherwise 
would be.”

High Costs

The trend was pushed to new heights by the last recession, with 20 
percent of prime-age men not working in 2009 before partly receding. But 
the recovery is unlikely to be complete. Like turtles flipped onto their 
backs, many people who stop working struggle to get back on their feet. 
Some people take years to return to the work force, and others never do. 
And a growing body of research finds that their children, in turn, are 
less likely to prosper.

“The long-run effects of this are very high,” said Lawrence F. Katz, a 
professor of economics at Harvard. “We could be losing the next 
generation of kids.”

For most unemployed men, life without work is not easy. In follow-up 
interviews, about two dozen men described days spent mostly at home, 
chewing through dwindling resources, relying on friends, strangers and 
the federal government. The poll found that 30 percent had used food 
stamps, while 33 percent said they had taken food from a nonprofit or 
religious group.

They are unhappy to be out of work and eager to find new jobs. They are 
struggling both with the loss of income and a loss of dignity. Their 
mental and physical health is suffering.

Yet 44 percent of men in the survey said there were jobs in their area 
they could get but were not willing to take.

José Flores, 45, who lives in St. Paul, said that after losing a job as 
a translator for the University of Minnesota’s public health department 
in 2011, he struck a deal with his landlord to pay $200 a month instead 
of $580, in exchange for doing odd jobs. He has a cellphone that costs 
$34 a month and an old car he tries not to drive, and “if I really need 
clothes or shoes, I go to the thrift store.” He picks up occasional work 
translating at hospitals, but he has not looked for a regular job since 

“If for some reason I cannot live in the apartment where I live anymore, 
then that will be basically a wake-up call for me to wake up and say for 
sure I need a full-time job,” Mr. Flores said. He added, “If I start 
working full time the rent will increase” — because he would no longer 
be available for odd jobs.

A Changing Society

Men today may feel less pressure to find jobs because they are less 
likely than previous generations to be providing for others. Only 28 
percent of men without jobs — compared with 58 percent of women — said a 
child under 18 lived with them.

A study published in October by scholars at the American Enterprise 
Institute and the Institute for Family Studies estimated that 37 percent 
of the decline in male employment since 1979 could be explained by this 
retreat from marriage and fatherhood.

“When the legal, entry-level economy isn’t providing a wage that allows 
someone a convincing and realistic option to become an adult — to go out 
and get married and form a household — it demoralizes them and shunts 
them into illegal economies,” said Philippe Bourgois, an anthropologist 
at the University of Pennsylvania who has studied the lives of young men 
in urban areas. “It’s not a choice that has made them happy. They would 
much rather be adults in a respectful job that pays them and promises 
them benefits.”

There is also evidence that working has become more expensive. A recent 
analysis by the Brookings Institution found that prices since 1990 had 
climbed most quickly for labor-intensive services like child care, 
health care and education, increasing what might be described as the 
cost of working: getting a degree, staying healthy, hiring someone to 
watch the children. Meanwhile, the price of food, clothing, computers 
and other goods has climbed more slowly.

And technology has made unemployment less lonely. Tyler Cowen, an 
economist at George Mason University, argues that the Internet allows 
men to entertain themselves and find friends and sexual partners at a 
much lower cost than did previous generations.

Mr. Katz, the Harvard economist, said, however, that some men might 
choose to describe themselves as unwilling to take low-wage jobs when in 
fact they cannot find any jobs. There are about 10 million prime-age men 
who are not working, but there are only 4.8 million job openings for men 
and women of all ages, according to the most recent federal data.

Millions of men are trying to find work. And among the 45 percent of men 
who said they had looked in the last year, large majorities said that to 
get a job they would be willing to work nights and weekends, start over 
in a new field, return to school or move to a new city.

Adewole Badmus, 29, moved to Houston in August to look for work in the 
oil industry and, in the evenings, to study for a master’s degree in 
subsea engineering at the University of Houston. He left his wife in 
Indianapolis, where she works as a FedEx security officer, until he 
finds work.

“I hope it will not take much longer,” he said. “I cannot move forward. 
I cannot move backward. So I just have to keep pushing.”

As an improving economy drives up hiring and wages, some of those on the 
sidelines also are likely to return to the labor market. Almost half of 
those who did not seek work in the last year said they wanted to work.

Yet many who have lost jobs will find it difficult to return.

David Muszynski, 51, crushed two nerves in his right leg in 2003 while 
breaking up a fight at a Black Sabbath concert outside Buffalo, ending 
his career as a concert technician. He worked eight more years as the 
manager of a sports bar in Tonawanda, N.Y., until that also became too 
much of a physical strain. In November, he went on federal disability 
benefits, replacing 60 percent of his income. Mr. Muszynski lives in a 
duplex he inherited from his mother, renting out the other unit.

He said he planned to take a night course to learn how to use a computer 
in the hope of finding a job that will place fewer demands on his body.

“I would rather be working,” he said. “Then I wouldn’t be so bored.”

But few people who qualify for disability return to the work force. Even 
if they can find work, they are afraid of losing their benefits and then 
losing their new job.

The decline of work is divisible into three related trends.

Young men are spending more years in school, delaying their entry into 
the work force but potentially improving their eventual economic prospects.

Michael Cervone, 25, took shelter in school during the bleakest years of 
the post-recession recovery. He signed up for a triple major at 
Youngstown State University in Ohio, in early-childhood education, 
special education and psychology, “just to better my chances of getting 
a job because I knew how competitive it was.”

But with the job market improving, Mr. Cervone decided to hurry up and 
graduate this weekend with a degree in early-childhood education.

“It feels like there’s a lot more jobs opening up, at least in my 
field,” he said. “I felt like it was the right time for me to start on 
the path that I chose.”

At the other end of the 25-to-54 spectrum, many older men who lost jobs 
have fallen back on disability benefits or started to draw on retirement 
savings. For some of those men who worked in manufacturing or 
construction, and now can find only service work, the obstacle is not 
just the difference in pay; it is also the humiliation of being on 
public display.

William Scott Jordan, 54, retired from the Army National Guard last 
December after a decade of full-time duty. He gets a partial disability 
benefit of $230 a month and a pension when he turns 60. He would like a 
job until then, but he doesn’t feel able to return to construction work.

Mr. Jordan, who lives in Sumter, S.C., checks for new job listings every 
day and has filled out “15 to 20” applications over the last year — at 
places as varied as paint stores and private detective agencies — but 
has been invited to only a single interview. He helps take care of his 
grandchildren. He cleans the house. He tried taking classes.

Mr. Jordan and his wife, who works with the families of deployed 
soldiers, are now living on $25,000 a year rather than $75,000, and he 
figures they can get by for another year before they start drawing on 
savings, “or I guess I go find me a job washing dishes.”

After a moment, Mr. Jordan adds, “I haven’t gotten that low yet.”

Trading Down

In the third group are men like Mr. Walsh, too young to retire but often 
ill-equipped to find new work. Like many sharing his plight, Mr. Walsh 
did not move directly from employment to the sidelines. He lost a job, 
and then another, and one more.

After waiting two years for work as an electrician, Mr. Walsh took a job 
in April 2012 at a Home Depot. He was fired a few months later, he said, 
after he failed to greet a “secret shopper” paid by the company to 
evaluate employees.

He drew unemployment benefits for another year before finding a 
warehouse job loading groceries for the Peapod delivery service. This 
time he was fired on Dec. 13 — like many who have lost jobs, he 
remembers the date immediately and precisely — after he asked for a 
vacation day, he said, to care for his dying mother.

Along the way, Mr. Walsh said he had drained the $15,000 in his union 
retirement account and run up about $20,000 in credit card debt. “We 
were constantly fighting because it’s fear,” he said of the toll on his 
marriage. “You don’t have the $50 you need for the lights and you don’t 
have the $300 you need for something else, and it gets kind of personal.”

He keeps paying union dues to preserve his shot at a pension, but that 
also means he can’t get nonunion work as an electrician. He says he 
would like a desk job instead. He used email for the first time last 
month, and he plans to return to community college in the spring to 
learn computer skills.

He says he is determined that his own children will attend college so 
their prospects will be better than his own.

“I lost my sense of worth, you know what I mean?” Mr. Walsh said. 
“Somebody asks you ‘What do you do?’ and I would say, ‘I’m an electrician.’”

“But now I say nothing. I’m not an electrician anymore.”

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