Too many Americans are not in the labor force
Here’s how we can fix the problem
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Things are looking great for workers in America — as long as you don’t look too hard.
In fact, you may not have even noticed a silent crisis that has been taking place over the past two generations. While virtually every key demographic has been improving their claim for the American ideal of success, prime-age male workers in this country have been on a consistent downward slide.
The plight of men ages 25 to 54 is not even represented by the unemployment figures, because many of them — 7 million, to be specific — are simply no longer looking for work. The environment, for them, is so hopeless that they have given up entirely.
What they have left, after dropping off the map, is a life rife with ever-worsening complications, economic depression, increased rates of drug abuse and a deep-seeded sense of disillusionment.
You wonder why Donald Trump has gained so much traction? It’s because Trump, unlike any other major political figure, has addressed the jobs question with sincerity, instead of derision or a mocking tone wrapped up in allegations of un-utilized white male privilege. See, these men don’t view their lives as very privileged at all. They see their lives as falling apart, and falling apart rapidly.
So what do we do about this?
The plight of men ages 25 to 54 is not even represented by the unemployment figures, because many of them — 7 million, to be specific — are simply no longer looking for work
The American Enterprise Institute published a report recently that tackles the issue directly. As the report notes, while about 10 percent of these disillusioned men are attempting to improve their lot via higher education or technical job training, the remaining 90 percent are what the British call NEET — “neither employed nor in education or training” — and that’s a bad scenario indeed.
It means that millions of men are simply existing. And while economic trends can be blamed for some of their fates, the report makes clear that this male flight from the workplace has been consistent since World War II regardless of the economy.
“In short, the American male’s postwar flight from work is a grave social ill,” writes Nicholas Eberstadt in the Wall Street Journal. “Declining labor-force participation and falling work rates have contributed to slower economic growth and widening gaps in income and wealth.”
Eberstadt notes that this form of slower growth attributed to the declining male work rates has reduced the nation’s tax revenue, produced higher deficits and increased the national debt.
“Un-working men have increased poverty in the U.S.,” he adds, “not least among the great many children whose fathers are without jobs…. Strangely, nearly everyone — the news media, major political parties, intellectuals, business leaders, policymakers — has managed to overlook it. The urgency of the moment is to bring this invisible crisis out of the shadows.”
The solution, as House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and congressional Republican leaders have recently pushed, is to increase the rate at which these NEET men are attempting to improve their circumstances. This does not mean more government entitlement programs; but rather it must be an attempt to emulate the successful programs implemented recently by small nations such as Denmark and Switzerland, which have taken funds from welfare-esque programs and instead invested them in programs focused on education and upward mobility.
As we’ve seen in the past two generations, merely giving men the means to survive is not enough. We must give them the means to achieve.
Give these men an incentive to train, to study, to improve. Then watch them do just that.
Evan Smith is a Staff Writer for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @Evansmithreport.