Struggling to Succeed: Employment, Education, Family Life, and Marriage
by Molly Boland
In a wide-ranging article, Blue Collar Blues, written for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Joy Lukachick Smith looks at some of the problems that plague young men from working-class families, specifically concentrating on the plight of those in Chattanooga, a city in Hamilton County, Tennessee. She covers many different aspects of life: employment, education, family life, and marriage. Overall, Smith emphasizes that the quality of life experienced in each area are interrelated, and that programs that promote greater success in one area bring positive results in the other areas.
“The diminished stature of working-class men is contributing, experts say, to the recent rise in poverty and decline in marriage among families of all races. In the long run, though, their aimlessness may pose a threat to the entire region’s economic growth, some warn” (“Roots of the Problem” section).
In her article, Smith goes into detail regarding the lack of opportunities for boys and men whose male counterparts in previous generations were able to obtain middle-class wages by entering factory work without connections and experience, relying more on physical prowess. Today, those types of jobs are not as widely available.
The overall relatively low unemployment rate has covered up a troubling trend in Tennessee: “there has been an historic decline in the number of prime-age men in the workforce” (“Roots of the Problem” section). After a recession, it takes an estimated 12.5 to 13 years for lower-class men’s employment to return to pre-recession normalcy. However, there has not been a greater than 12.5 year time without a recession in the United States. So what does this mean? The ability for an average working-class man to return to robust employment is nearly impossible. With such an outlook, it is no surprise that the motivation to work is on the decline. Moreover, Smith recognizes the correlation between unemployment and lower marriage rates, as more and more women consider these men as “less desirable marriage partners and choose not to marry them” (“The New Man” section). Moreover, the least likely to succeed are minority boys, who often come from the same demographic area. In poor neighborhoods, there is an increase in fatherless boys who statistically become the men who struggle in the work world, according to research by the National Bureau of Economic Research. For households of income levels under $64,554 in Hamilton County, boys raised in two-parent homes have a higher probability of being employed after age 30 than boys raised in a single-parent home. (Source: The Quality of Opportunity Project)
There are some encouraging initiatives in Chattanooga, such as the Public Education Foundation’s efforts to train and employ one hundred low-income teens in paid summer internships and Todd Agne’s “Dads Making a Difference” class which seeks to “stabilize troubled men.” To learn more about them and about employment’s effects on marriage in Tennessee, read Smith’s full article Blue Collar Blues.
About the author
Currently studying theology at The Catholic University of America, Molly Boland is an intern for the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth at the USCCB.