The front page of the New York Times this morning has an excellent article about the unemployment rate for men in their prime age. It’s not good.
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.
There are fewer, mid-salary jobs for people without a college degree. At the same time, it is easier than ever for men to survive without jobs. They have fewer family responsibilities, since they aren’t married. They rely on federal benefits, including disability payments. They keep themselves “busy” by hanging out on the Internet.
There are crappy, minimum wage jobs, but these guys don’t want to take those $10-per hour jobs. The lack of dignity in those jobs and the barely-worth-it wages aren’t much of a draw. In the article, one guy lost his job at Home Depot when the company’s “secret shopper” reported that the guy didn’t greet him properly. Ugh. Home Depot employs “secret shoppers” to spy on employees? That’s kind of awful.
So, why should we care about these people? Especially in the wake of events in Ferguson and Staten Island, there isn’t a whole lot sympathy right now for middle-aged white dudes.
Well, this isn’t just a white dude problem, despite the pictures in the Times that focus on them. Look at the interactive map in the Times about where these unemployed workers live. Those high employment areas have large numbers of minorities. And those numbers are horrific. In some areas of New Jersey, 94% of men between ages of 25-54 are unemployed.
When I looked at the anger of the protesters in Ferguson, I saw people who were angry about a whole lotta stuff. Not just police brutality.
When Steve looks at those numbers, he immediately thinks about Nazis and fascism. Unemployed, angry, middle aged dudes cause problems.
The numbers are really, really bad. 60 percent unemployment rate in coal country in West Virginia. Arizona, New Mexico, Michigan, and Kentucky have similar numbers.
What happens when people are unemployed? Yes, there is always danger of civil unrest. Since the older unemployed guys probably vote, they might for people with extreme views. There’s also apathy for things I think are important. Do any of those guys cares about the torture of prisoners? Nope. Maybe a chuckle for the hummus up the butt. Child care subsidies? Nope.
When these guys are unemployed, they can’t financially support children or their parents.
What is most disheartening is that I am not hearing any solutions.
UPDATE: One solution that is batting around is a radical rethinking of higher education. If most of the unemployment is in the non-college aged crowd, maybe we need to figure out how to retrain them in community colleges and online schools. But I’m not seeing a massive investment in these programs, beyond little op-eds in the backpages of newspapers.