Men Without Work by Nicholas Eberstadt – My 4 Lessons and Takeaways

Men Without Work_0Romans used the word “decimation” to describe the loss of a tenth of a given unit of men. The United States has suffered something akin to a decimation of its male workforce over the past fifty years. This disturbing situation is our “new normal.”
Imagine how different our country would be if another 9 to 10 million American men—most of them of prime working age—held down paying jobs today. That is the difference between the male work rates America enjoyed in 1965 and those now. … It is a problem so urgent, so immense that it should demand immediate attention and action, though it is one we have somehow collectively managed more or less to ignore (a few honorable exceptions noted).
Nicholas Eberstadt, Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis


It’s pretty clear. As Maslow put it, it starts with physiological needs, then moves up to safety, then to love, then to self-esteem, and finally to self-actualization. So, imagine, a growing number of men who do not have a job, and then for too many, do not have a family. These men are not doing too well rising up Maslow’s hierarchy. Men without work are truly men in crisis.

And that is the situation facing many American men; more in America than in many other developed countries.

This problem is thoroughly documented in the Nicholas Eberstadt book, Men without Work. There are plenty of reasons to commend the author. He nails the problem. And, he makes the rare good decision to offer alternative voices in concluding chapters by two other writers who recommend their differing views, and alternative solutions. Good for him!

But, as I finished reading the book, I felt plenty discouraged; something akin to despair. We’ve got a problem, and not much of a solution in sight.

I presented my synopsis of this book at last week’s Urban Engagement Book Club, sponsored by CitySquare. I begin my synopsis handout with this section:

• Why is this book worth our time.

#1 – It describes in great detail the great decline – the disappearance of – men within the labor force in the United States.
#2 – This book provides a platform for alternative interpretations of these findings; with suggestions for alternative solutions. (In other words, it does, at least partially, present both/all sides).
#3 – This book is a wake up call to pay attention to this invisible crisis: men without work.

Though the “causes” for this problem of men without work are in dispute, there is not much doubt about who the men are most likely to be without work. From the book:

In sum, an American man ages twenty-five-to-fifty-four was more likely to be an un-worker in 2015 if he (1) had no more than a high school diploma; (2) was not married and had no children or children who lived elsewhere; (3) was not an immigrant; or (4) was African American.

Why have we not quite “noticed” the disappearance of so many men from the labor force? Two reasons, especially: #1 – the rise of the number of women in the work place. (1948; 34% — 2015, 70+%). And, #2 – men have just …quit working, and quit looking for jobs.

It’s worth noting that the author holds the Henry Wendt Chair in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute. In other words, it is expected that he would take a quite conservative stance to any solutions. Here are the solutions offered by the author:

I can begin by suggesting we devote closer attention to three broad issues: (1) revitalizing American business and its job-generating capacities, (2) reducing the immense and perverse disincentives against male work embedded in our social welfare programs, and (3) coming to terms with the enormous challenge of bringing convicts and felons back into our economy and society. … Suffice it say that entrepreneurship is crucial to job creation and that America’s growing regulatory burden is not the recipe for encouraging entrepreneurship.

(In my synopsis, I observed that the one area that conservatives and progressives might really agree on is the issue of over-incarceration).

I ended my synopsis (and synopsis handout) with my lessons and takeaways, and some personal thoughts/reflections.

• Some lessons and takeaways

#1 – Too many men are not working
#2 – Once they are “not working,” too many continue “not working.”
#3 – Incarceration rates play a very significant role in this problem.
#4 – And, yes, this is in fact a problem.

• Some thoughts from Randy

#1 – On work and community – remember “Bowling Alone.”
#2 – On the growing chorus for guaranteed basic income. (The Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford. Elon Musk and Richard Branson, among the latest).
#3 – Some thoughts on work/labor and self-esteem.
#4 – Some thoughts on empathy as starting point.

It’s hard to agree on what the biggest, most important problems are that deserve our time and attention first, and over-the-long-haul. I think this is one of those problems. I recommend this book. Not for the solutions; but for clarity in understanding the challenging problem our country faces with so many men without work.


coming_jobs_war_200And, to read also: my thoughts kept going back to The Coming Jobs War by Jim Clifton. Here is an excerpt from this book:

What would fix the world — what would suddenly create worldwide peace, global wellbeing, and the next extraordinary advancements in human development, I would say the immediate appearance of 1.8 billion jobs — formal jobs. Nothing would change the current state of humankind more.
The leadership problem is that an increasing number of people in the world are miserable, hopeless, suffering, and becoming dangerously unhappy because they don’t have an almighty good job — and in most cases, no hope of getting one. 

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