Meet the Unemployed Middle-Aged White Guy (UMAWG)

As if the world needed another trend piece about men in crisis, yesterday Newsweek ran a story titled “Dead Suit Walking,” about the plight of the unemployed middle-aged white man. And if overuse of the word “mancession” (second only to “staycation” in my personal dictionary of the most despised made-up words) didn’t already have you vomiting in your mouth, writers Rick Marin and Tony Dokoupil are out to coin a new cultural acronym: BWM, for “Beached White Male.”

Apparently “Unemployed Middle-Aged White Guy” (UMAWG) wasn’t sufficiently catchy.

(If Dokoupil sounds familiar, it might be because he wrote the last man-trend-piece for Newsweek, “Men’s Lib: Why We Need to Reimagine Masculinity.”)

The effects of the recession on men has been excruciatingly well documented over the past year, but the disproportionate job loss has been generally attributed to the decline of traditionally male-dominated industries like construction and manufacturing. It’s been spun as a teary tale of post-industrial woe, the beginning of the end of the middle class.

But this latest story focuses on how the recession has played out for well-educated white-collar guys (the short answer: not great).

The number of college-educated men unemployed for at least a year is five times higher today than after the dotcom bubble. In New York City, men in the 35-to-54 kill zone have lost jobs faster than any other group, including teenage girls, according to new data from the Fiscal Policy Institute.

Losing jobs faster than teenage girls. Could it get any worse?

There are tears in this story too, as one UMAWG (pronounced yoo-mog) breaks down, regretful that when he had a job, he didn’t do much for guys who were unemployed.

“It’s humbling,” [Brock] Johnson says. He started going to networking events, which only brought him lower. “A bunch of people get together, hang out, trade contacts. For me it’s kind of depressing … I’m not trying to be arrogant, but I have better contacts than most people.” At this thought, his cheeks redden. When he was employed, he didn’t do much to help those who weren’t. “I’m embarrassed to admit that.” He vows he’ll treat people differently now. He looks away.

The corporate warrior has begun to cry.

But this time around Marin and Dokoupil leave the sadness to their subjects; they’re too busy slapping their knees in perverted glee over the ungraceful misfortune of the UMAWG.

As if middle age isn’t bad enough. The moribund metabolism. The purple pill that keeps your food down. The blue pill that keeps another part of your anatomy up. Now you can’t get an effing job? Stuck in your own personal Detroit of the soul, with the grinding stress of enforced idleness. The wife who doesn’t look at you quite the same way. The poignantly forgiving sons. The stain on your masculinity for becoming the bread-loser. The night sweats and dark refuge of Internet porn. The gnawing fear that this may be the beginning of a slow, shaming crawl to early Social Security.

In their insistence that they’re not poking fun—

It might be tempting to snark at these former fat cats suffering lean times. But when Beached White Males suffer, so do their wives and children. Lives, marriages, and futures are at stake. Examining who these guys are, and what washed them up, is not an exercise in schadenfreude.

It’s pretty clear that they’re enjoying themselves. Here, they’re telling the reader: Look, we know nobody cares about middle-aged white guys, but the kids—something’s gotta be done about the kids! (Nevermind that this may be a fatal demographical miscalculation of Newsweek‘s target audience.) Even their choice of pseudonym for one of the two principal subjects, “Brock Johnson,” seems to be meant as a joke.

I’ll admit that my gut reaction to the plight of the UMAWG, based on the caricature in my head, is not sympathetic. These are guys who bought into the illusion of corporate security. They’re probably still driving $50,000 cars and voting republican, horrified that one day soon they’ll have to tell their golfing buddies that their son is going to a state school. And against all evidence, they’re convinced that one day soon they’ll really benefit from those tax cuts they’ve been voting for all these years.

But it doesn’t take more than a second of reflection to ditch the knee-jerk cynicism and empathize—as a human being and as a man. It’s no fun seeing your savings dry up, wondering how you’re going to pay your mortgage, and watching your self-esteem circle the drain.

It’s not uncommon these days for wives to be the breadwinners, but it’s nonetheless perfectly understandable that a guy’s pride would be bruised when he relinquishes the role.

And here’s where Marin and Dokoupil miss an opportunity; they mention the stereotypical incongruity between a man’s feelings and his actions:

Newsweek conducted an exclusive poll of 250 unemployed (and underemployed) men ages 41 to 59. Most of them are married, white, middle-class, and looking for work.The results (see chart) provide a rare window into the [UMAWG] and a characteristically male contradiction between feelings and action. As in: I’m never going to get a job as good as my old one, but I refuse to sell the house! Or: I’m depressed, I can’t sleep, my sex drive is shot, and my wife now has to support the family, but I don’t need marriage counseling! I’ll just give Mommy a back rub, do some housework, and we’ll be fine!

And a few times in the story they hint at what’s made explicit only in the accompanying infographic:

An exclusive Newsweek Poll proves what every wife intuitively knows: unemployed middle-aged men are sad, tired, and defeated. But here’s the rub: they’re also in denial [emphasis mine].

That may be the rub—and the alleged denial is certainly ripe for some sociological/psychological/cultural analysis—but they don’t really address it.

Why aren’t UMAWGs selling their houses, getting marriage counseling, or taking jobs that are “beneath them”? Are they clinging to a John Wayne–style masculine ideal, or is it just run-of-the-mill Baby Boomer Entitlement Syndrome (BBES)? Marin and Dokoupil are too busy poking fun at them—and subtly reinforcing their shame at no longer bringing home the bacon—to be bothered to address the question.

The tough part for [Brian Goodell] is the pity. “Say you have a disease, like cancer, and you’re trying to be real positive and everyone’s like, ‘How are you doing?’ I’m like, ‘Don’t pity me. I’m strong. Don’t pity me.’”

He held the phone out to his wife, Vicki, who had just walked in and was running into the shower, taking a work call on her cell.

“Hey, hon!” Goodell called out, following her into the bathroom, laughing. “I think she’s taking her phone into the shower. Wanna talk to Newsweek?”

You could hear her heels kick off onto the tile, the water turning on.

“No!” she shouted.

“She’s way too busy,” Goodell says.

Or she doesn’t want to talk about it.

Graphic via Newsweek
About Henry P. Belanger

Henry P. Belanger is a writer, reporter, and an editor-at-large at the Good Men Project. Contact him via email.


  1. Just this past few months there have been published the results of suicide studies done in the USA and across some 54 or so other countries. The largest increase in suicides in the last 10 years has been among white males in Europe and North America. In the United States white males 50 and above have seen a 49 percent increase in suicide. I know one prominent liberal white female who was a direct beneficiary of affirmative action who said recently of a family friend’s suicide, that he was a coward. Jack, the victim was a white male in his mid 50s, military veteran who could not find any work in the construction business and whose ex-wife was hounding him for money. He was a big, strapping man whose life of hard work and service belied the claim of cowardice.Popular culture has kicked white men for bein gthe cause of the world’s woes for decades, but now, when they fall to the streets, the response is to kick them even when they most need help.

  2. Biased article. Note how they mock the unemployed middle class and their Republican voting. Threats if tax increases and excessive soending is killing the economy. Look past the negative PR, we need a boost to the economy which will only cone from pulling back government .

  3. Middle aged men at least got to experience a career. They got to have a savings account. They actually got to have wives. They had a support system. The men younger then them are the ones really losing out. The corporate guys have those big pregnant looking bellies, they are bald, those guys never really had to try in life, yet they were given opportunities. They never experienced rejection. If they still have jobs, they are very arrogant about it, like they are something special. Their special pregnant bellies, junk food diets, they can’t even get an erection, yet they receive affection from women, and they still have a social standing. Younger men do not have any of that. They will never. These men do not realize how hard the ball drops once you lose the job. They think they have connections, friends, a sturdy marriage. They think if it gets bad to just get a job at McDonalds. These men are in for a very rude surprise. But the collapse was built to satisfy these men with “Social Security” funds, otherwise, these fat pigs would be the men who knew how to stand up to the system. They are all pansies, tho. In their Kashmir sweaters, soft fat guy hands, rubbin that pregnant belly full of parasites and mold, waiting for their next meal of processed junk food, yeast and sugar. Bunch of entitlement pansies, addicted to television and whining about Social Security.



  5. Mark Ellis says:

    What did Newsweek sell for a year ago–one dollar? That sums up that rag’s worth in spades. Sure, it tough for everybody out there, or perhaps Newsweek might have gotten more for their worthless pages.

    Meantime, with governments–which are top heavy with female workers–heading for bankruptcy all over the land, the men caught up in this “mancession” (I too loathe that construction) could get some real company.

    I have never been a white collar worker, but this denigration of them only shows Newsweak for what it is, a borderline social Marxist, traditionalist-hating bunch of low lives, who owe their pathetic existence to the real men who worked, and fought, to give them the right to spew their enervated venom.

  6. better watch out they can get guns & then the chickens really will come home to roost. school shootings may be replaced by shooting the men at the top who have ripped off the rest of us including their brothers.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I would pair this up with the Hymowitz article from a few months ago, about how men today “refuse to grow up,” spend their time on the wrong activities, and generally don’t do what their more respectable elders did. When her article is looked at in this light it seems even more out of touch with reality. It seems to me the older model of white-collar corporate careerist has been blown out of the water by the economic changes of the last few decades. It’s pointless to demand that men change their ways to conform to a model that was already over-idealized and is now disappearing anyway.

    That ideal was already deeply flawed and unrewarding for a lot of men, as you can see in 1950’s novels like _The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit_. (All that scathing treatment of the soulless corporate culture that you see in _Mad Men_ has been around for at least fifty years now.)

    Here are a lot of men who generally did what was expected of them in terms of getting a college degree, shaving every day, wearing a suit, commuting to an office, having the appropriate hobbies, and setting up the requisite family in the requisite house. You know, all those things that so many “slackers” find unappealing today.

    I was glad to see in the GMP article at least some mention of middle-aged white men having actual feelings. I think too often men’s feelings get dismissed as “ego” or “stupid male pride,” when in fact there is actual deep emotional content there.

  8. It is rather surprising to see that the author does not agree with the tone of the Newsweek article. The tone of that article matches many of the articles featured on GMPM for the last month and a half. It is odd to suddenly see the line drawn at making fun of unemployed, educated white men.

    That said, the plight of older men who lost their jobs shows the severity of the recession. White collar jobs are usually stable and secure. For them to evaporate like that does not bode well. I think that is the main reason for these men feeling so depressed. All that hard work  — from years in college to hours of overtime — essentially amounts to nothing. If a person does one thing for that long, it is difficult for them to switch gears and do something else. And the unspoken problem is their age. Many companies will not hire older men, regardless of their experience. It is more unlikely that companies would hire a 46-year-old man fresh out communications college.

    • For older (or even middle aged) men it the resession can be a hard road.

      As you say Jacob you put in years of hard work, trying to support your family, climbing the ladder,….just to have it disappear in a puff of smoke.

      And the unspoken problem is their age. Many companies will not hire older men, regardless of their experience. It is more unlikely that companies would hire a 46-year-old man fresh out communications college.
      True. To borrow a rather distasteful (but commonl known) adage most companies think its a waste of money to try to teach “old dogs” new tricks. That 46 year old man has what, maybe 10-20 years in him (if that long) compared to a 26 years old man fresh out of communications college who could have up 40 years of work in him. Its rather upsetting that this is one of the few times companies will think in the long term instead of the quick easy score.

      Times are tough and its going to take more than arrogantly telling men to get over themselves to get through them.

      • Prince Everlove says:

        I was doing so well when the Great Recession hit. Virtually Recession-Proof. And then my Friend In California wanted me to assist them during this hard time. I am a man of my word–and to make a long story short, I booked a flight, took off to Cali—and everything went down, down, down from there. The place is cursed…I was of little help, but worse, I was not able to regain my job when I got back 9 months later. My car was sold to make the trip to Cali (I am a VERY loyal Friend). It shattered my friendship, (the strain of the whole rotten mess and outsiders interference took its toll) and I am left 2 1/2 years later still waiting for a “recovery”. Yes, I take full responsibility for my actions–I was only doing the right thing I thought—and regret it now in certain ways.

    • Jacob, what are you talking about? Methinks you confuse this writers position on MRAs with men in general. It’s surprising that gmpm is sticking up for it’s readers?

      • No, I am not surprised that GMPM creates content for its predominantly female feminist readership anymore than I am surprised that Fox News creates content for its predominantly white, working-class Christian viewership. That does not, however, change that in both instances the content is highly biased, nor does it change that in the last two months GMPM has featured several articles attacking and deriding men’s concerns and issues ranging from dating to sexual violence against men to father’s rights. So it is odd to see sudden compassion for a group the magazine has, up to this point, spat on.

        • William Bontrager says:

          I agree. This writer seems to be only showing a little less sympathy than the ultra biased and elated Newseek people that desire to see a specific class fall. This is sick! He didn’t mention the only slightly younger, Christian white male just out of college and floating in the sea of rejections. It is happening to them too. And to assume that these white men were “fat-cats” playing golf is juvenile. It is the epitome of extreme stereotyping. Thanks for being a voice of truth in an article I thought was going to have legitimate information. I know not to go to this goodmenproject site again.


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