High Numbers of Unemployed Men in the Shadows
by Caty Long
While unemployment rates in the U.S. have decreased overall in recent years, an unsettling trend has been on the rise: the unemployment rate of men of working age. In his new book, Men without Work, demographer Nicholas Eberstadt delves deeply into this recent crisis to explore the social and moral consequences of this reality.
The male work rate has been, on the whole, in decline since World War II and is currently around the same levels as the Depression era. One-sixth of men between the ages of 25 and 54 – about 7 million Americans – are unemployed and no longer looking for jobs. Nearly half of these are on painkillers; many are disabled. On average, these “ghost soldiers” spend 43 hours per year working, instead filling up their time with television, movies, and Internet browsing. “These men appear to have relinquished what we think of ordinarily as adult responsibilities not only as breadwinners but as parents, family members, community members, and citizens,” writes Eberstadt. With no jobs and little motivation to find employment, these men survive on provisions from their parents or wives. Consequently, men without jobs are seen as less desirable potential spouses, undoubtedly contributing to the decline in the marriage rate over recent years.
This trend may be linked to the “Great Incarceration,” which began in 1965 when there was an increase in jailing criminals to lower crime rates. Now that the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, many men who are released from jail do not look for work. This could be due to the stigma on those who have served time in jail, or other factors.
Not all is lost, however. Eberstadt provides three broad solutions to bringing these men out of the shadows and into the light of family and society life. Firstly, American businesses should work to create new jobs; secondly, welfare programs should be altered to encourage people to enter the workforce rather than stay out of it; and thirdly, it should be made easier for men who have been in jail to secure jobs. While these solutions may not remedy such a problem immediately, bringing it into the light may bring hope and healing for both men and their families.
About the author
Caty Long is a first year Master of Theological Studies student at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute and currently an intern for the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth at the USCCB.