There’s an employment crisis among men, but there’s also a labor shortage.
The Atlantic will always be on my shit list for setting in motion the “End of Men” theory. That said, the most recent cover story, “Can the Middle Class be Saved?”, gets way more specific about the plight of manhood.
Author Don Peck’s general premise is that the growing inequality of America is an unsustainable phenomenon, gutting the middle class that has always been the engine of economic growth.
He points out that only 30% of Americans receive a four-year college degree. And the hardest hit in the Great Recession are the men whose jobs have been eliminated by technology process improvement or replaced by lower-cost, semi-skilled, overseas labor. “In 1967, 97 percent of 30-to-50-year-old American men with only a high-school diploma were working; in 2010, just 76 percent were.”
Where service industries dominated by women continue to expand, blue-collar manufacturing and construction jobs have been gutted, Peck writes. “Men’s difficulties are hardly evident in Silicon Valley or on Wall Street. But they’re hard to miss in foundering blue-collar and low-end service communities across the country. It is in these less affluent places that gender roles, family dynamics, and community character are changing in the wake of the crash.”
“Consistently, men without higher education have been the biggest losers in the economy’s long transformation.” (According to Michael Greenstone, an economist at MIT, real median wages of men have fallen by 32 percent since their peak in 1973, once you account for the men who have washed out of the workforce altogether.)
Peck points out that in 2001 male-dominated manufacturing employed 16 million people, the same number as female-dominated health and education service combined. But over the last decade, manufacturing has shed four million jobs, while health and education services has added more than that number. All the while, men have been unwilling or unable to move from one to the other.
One of the great puzzles of the past 30 years has been the way that men, as a group, have responded to the declining market for blue-collar jobs. Opportunities have expanded for college graduates over that span, and for nongraduates, jobs have proliferated within the service sector (at wages ranging from rock-bottom to middling). Yet in the main, men have pursued neither higher education nor service jobs. The proportion of young men with a bachelor’s degree today is about the same as it was in 1980. And as the sociologists Maria Charles and David Grusky noted in their 2004 book, Occupational Ghettos, while men and women now mix more easily on different rungs of the career ladder, many industries and occupations have remained astonishingly segregated, with men continuing to seek work in a dwindling number of manual jobs, and women ‘crowding into nonmanual occupations that, on average, confer more pay and prestige.’
The upshot of Peck’s take is that men aren’t at an end; it’s a specific kind of man that is really at the core of both our economic meltdown and our cultural breakdown. The rich and privately-educated are still dominating the country and the world. But the vast lower and middle class that used to form the heart and soul of our country are at profound risk, as they lose employment, refuse further education, change professions, and suffer real losses of income, wealth and, for some, permanent unemployment.
While I don’t necessarily agree with this broad-brush approach to manhood, I do agree that in Boston or Silicon Valley it is easy to forget that manhood in Middle America is facing a severe challenge, outside of how to be a good father and husband while continuing to make a healthy living.
As Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs says in this video—much more eloquently than I can—the issue really comes down to a skill gap for the men of our country. We don’t need more unemployment insurance or a resurrection of industries that have been eclipsed through technological improvement. What we need is for the large and growing number of long-term unemployed to get training and education to become skilled tradesmen as Rowe suggests or fill the jobs in the health care or technology sectors that remain vacant for a lack of qualified applicants. Sure, there’s an unemployment epidemic among men, but there’s also a labor shortage.
How about we use all the technology innovation that is killing the American male worker to retrain and educate him virtually? How about a GI Bill, not only for Veterans returning from foreign wars, but veterans of the Great Recession here at home?