The New Idle Class: Men

fat_guyby James A. Bacon

Earlier this week, I noted that employers in Martinsville, a city with one of the highest unemployment rates in Virginia, have 1,400 unfilled jobs. Many jobs require skills that locals do not possess. But few aspiring workers are enrolling in courses at the region’s New College Institute that would equip them with those skills. Local officials bemoaned the lack of motivation of those out of work.  “We don’t have an employment problem,” said City Manager Leon Towarnicki. “We have a participation problem.”

It turns out that the phenomenon of unfilled manufacturing jobs is hardly unique to Martinsville. Openings for manufacturing jobs this year have averaged 353,000 a month nationally, but manufacturers struggle to find workers to fill them, reports the Wall Street Journal today. The Journal article emphasizes the mismatch between job requirements and worker skills.

In 2000, 53% of manufacturing workers had no education past high school. By 2015, that share had fallen 9 percentage points, while the share with college or graduate degrees increased 8 points. … The “upskilling” in manufacturing mirrors a broader bias in the economy toward more educated workers. …

Companies say education and training systems haven’t evolved with industry needs.

Perhaps there is something grievously wrong with the U.S. system for educating and training workers. That’s not hard to believe: The federal and state governments fund more than a dozen job training programs, which are notorious for their overlap, administrative inefficiency and lack of effectiveness. But, then, the nation does have a strong system of community colleges. And as the Martinsville case shows, many people out of work are unwilling to avail themselves of the opportunities to re-tool themselves.

In a separate WSJ piece, “The Idle Army: America’s Unworking Men,” Nicholas Eberstadt with the American Enterprise Institute focuses on the decline in workforce participation among American men. The fraction of American men age 20 and older without paid work rose from 19% to 32% over the past 50 years. “For prime working-age men,” Eberstadt wrote, “the jobless rate jumped to 15% from 6%. Most of the postwar surge involved voluntary departure from the labor force.”

Who are America’s new cadre of prime-age male unworkers? They tend to be: (1) less educated; (2) never married; (3) native born; and (4) African-American. But those categories intersect in interesting ways. Black married men are more likely to be in the workforce than unmarried whites. Immigrants are more likely to be working or job-hunting than native-born Americans, regardless of ethnicity. …

What do unworking men do with their free time? Sadly, not much that’s constructive. About a tenth are students trying to improve their circumstances. But the overwhelming majority are what the British call NEET: “neither employed nor in education or training.” Time-use surveys suggest that they are almost entirely idle. .. For the NEETs, “socializing, relaxing and leisure” is a full-time occupation, accounting for 3,000 hours  a year, much of this time in front of television or computer screens.

Part of the problem can be attributed to the workforce barriers encountered by America’s huge pool of ex-prisoners and felons, who account for one adult male in eight in the civilian non-jail population. Another is the increase in nonworking men who draw from disability and other means-tested benefit programs.

Meanwhile, writes Eberstadt, “the male retreat from the labor force has exacerbated family breakdown, promoted welfare dependence, and recast ‘disability’ into a viable and alternative lifestyle. Among these men the death of work seems to mean also the death of civic engagement, community participation and voluntary association.”

The assumption that “everybody wants to work” is no longer founded. That is an ethnocentric notion of U.S. elites, projecting their own values through an ideological filter upon an expanding underclass of all races. Economic policies that fail to recognize the new workforce reality, no matter how well intentioned, are a waste of time. Indeed, insofar as such policies distract us from the real issues and squander precious resources that our decreasingly affluent society can no longer afford, they do an actual harm.

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29 responses to “The New Idle Class: Men

  1. got to give you credit for digging further into this and exposing the data … and some myths…

    and.. it’s not as much as a lack of skills – it’s a lack of the core education needed to be trained in those skills… when your high school education sucks.. and you know it… because you KNOW you cannot READ and COMPREHEND what is required to be trained…

    so you bail… and this is not unknown – as 1/3 of kids headed to college don’t have the core knowledge for 101 level work and have to take remedial courses in basic core reading and writing skills.

    same thing with the Military – 1/3 or more cannot meet the minimum specs for being able to read and understand technical manuals necessary to use and operate modern military equipment.

    finally – here’s something to see – note the problem is for the most part, NOT in California, Arizona, Colorado and Texas nor in the Northeast save for Maine.

    But DO NOTE – Virginia AND Duly note that Social Security Disability is totally used up and will have to cut benefits) to stay within it’s FICA revenues.

    (sorry about the size – I don’t know how to reduce it)

  2. I saw this in Forbes a few weeks ago. Apparently, the answer is a lower sperm count.
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/richkarlgaard/2016/07/06/economys-tragic-mismatch/#2036b58e5746

  3. The problem in the Danville/Mart5insville when lots of plants closed was that the average worker/guy was middle aged – 30-55- and had limited training to do anything else there or anywhere in the USA. And there were hundreds of them.
    And, there were no other jobs in the area to train them for. And what could anyone train a 45 year old guy with limited education so that they might go to other parts of Virginia to get a job? Or to NC where the same dramatic shut down of basic manufacturing jobs jumped to Mexico in 2005. (And many of those companies two years later moved on to China so do not blame Mexico for everything.)
    And the New Century Institute has spend a lot of money with limited notable results. They hired a former state senator and insurance agent to be president of that institute and paid him almost a million dollars for 3 years and then he went back to Abingdon. (And his VRS retirement was dramatically improved with three years of a huge salary combined with his 20 some years in the GA.)
    As a person involved in technical education for 40+ years I do not believe there has been enough focus on training our people for the jobs of the future. I see no vision like I see in South Carolina for example. But we have gotten so used to feeding at the federal spending trough that it is hard to change habits.
    Sad situation indeed.

    • “And what could anyone train a 45 year old guy with limited education so that they might go to other parts of Virginia to get a job?”

      People come from other countries to other parts of Virginia every day. They are often in the country illegally (or without documentation if you prefer). They can’t speak English and they have few skills. They find jobs. They work in construction. They learn English and find ways to do a little better every year.

      “The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.”

      From: Jimmy Carter’s so-called malaise speech (although he never actually said the word “malaise” in the speech.

  4. oh come on Jwgilley , you were just getting to the good stuff and you quit!!!

    what should we be doing?

    seriously.

    there ARE JOBS right there in Martinsville.. right?

    can these guys not be re-trained for them?

  5. Larry, I think Jim’s point is they won’t retrain for them. They simply won’t participate. To me, it’s fundamentally a cultural and indeed spiritual issue. Cultural because the underclass culture mentioned feeds off itself, believes its just fine to scam the system for disability and then work as many jobs on the side as they can. Of course, they can’t work real jobs, but I know from my clients that they can make plenty of money. Hell, the panhandler at the corner of Broad and Belvidere reliably makes between $45K and $50K. For all that money, though, they don’t have status. Status for today’s worker is being Lisbeth Salander and working in cyber security or CSI. OK, Microsoft will do. But who was remarking, on this blog, or somewhere recently that the aspirations of lots of young people today is to work at McDonald’s. Go figure.

    But I’m rambling. This is a cultural issue and spiritual issue, not a jobs or specific training issue.

  6. across the US – it’s a cultural issue that re-training won’t solve?

    wow!

    see…. single guys don’t get TANF or Medicaid, right? but you say they have jobs anyhow but still are listed as unemployed? And since they are not paying FICA they won’t get Social Security or Medicare either?

    lord. lord.

    very confusing!!!

    • Sure you can retrain to solve the cultural issue. The problem is: You probably have to teach something like the Bible to do it. I’m sure you’d be thrilled with that idea.

      • we sure seem to be lost souls these days… the rest of the world is beating our butt … and I suppose .. it’s appropriate we ought to be praying… at this point…

  7. This is exactly why I really disbelieve that “taxes” or “regulation” are hurting the economy or productivity. There’s so much evidence of a skills gap hindering the American economy right now. If we fixed the skills gap and there were still economic problems, I might buy the taxes/regulation argument.

  8. Jobs today run by operating procedures drafted by management. Just because you have a pretty piece of paper and maybe even years of experience, don’t think you can use all that to do your job.

    Even the military is getting into the game by instituting Troubleshooting by iPad. Flip switch A, did you get a No-Op light? No? Then twist switch B to 3. Did the light turn on? Yes? Change the Klystron drive amplifier big black box. iPad brings up a picture of the part and a how to remove. No tools required. A blind deaf monkey could do the work. They keep old geezers on the payroll to fix the stuff iPad can’t find. Soon there will be an app that let’s iPad do the whole job in 20 seconds without pesky manual interruptions beyond parts replacement.

    When that day comes, there will be plenty more people joining the idle class. So instead of all this work oriented education, maybe it should be pointed to something more constructive?

    A course in Obtaining Self-realization Without Drugs comes to mind. Or an extended carouse through the ebook series of A Redneck’s Guide to Tantric Sex could be enlightening while also reducing the number of social bills brought up in the General Assembly. One things for sure though.

    The government can’t allow everyone to just go fishing.

  9. re: ” A blind deaf monkey could do the work.”

    well you’re talking about the ability to read and understand an online technical manual and all that it takes to actually get that manual -and others when that one does not have what is needed.

    and not totally buying the idea as people I know do not know how to configure their TV and other connected equipment… they truly don’t know how their smart phone “works” … most have to have “help” to even get email to work on their phones… they have no idea how to access their car’s computer… read and find out what the codes mean and then be able to navigate through the plethora of online manuals and videos to actually be able to fix their car….

    documentation for “stuff” is a huge configuration management mess and people don’t fundamentally understand that something simple like a v2.2 versus v 2.3 – can actually mean a HUGE difference in the configuration of the device they are trying to troubleshoot or configure.

    I don’t think a ‘monkey’ can deal with this at all… it takes higher level reading and writing skills… a knowledge and understanding of how technologies work AND an important skill known as Critical Thinking to be able to actually function as a independent worker who actually uses judgement and critical thinking in making decisions and taking actions to get the job done – BEYOND simplified “instructions” for parts of the job.

    yes – the companies have been forced to parse the job ELEMENTS into super simple steps BECAUSE most folks seeking work do NOT come equipped to be able to do those jobs without them being made super simple.

    when you say “synch” your “devices” – what does that mean to most folks? Do they know what that means and why it is important? when you say free up space by putting your photos on the “cloud” – do they know what that means? do they know what “client-server” means? How about two-step authentication and why that is not becoming essential for login credentials?

    How many people can actually get online to their Doctors web-based patient portal? I’ve asked… and the answer is … not too many… Would they even be able to navigate through an online archives containing their OWN health data much less be the person that is putting that data in for patients?

    Teachers at school – now need to be able to troubleshoot the devices their students are using that are accessing the school’s WiFi and central databases with the students records and lessons….

    so – yes…. the big effort NOW is to try to get stuff broken down into simple super-easy steps because much of the population is not educated well enough to understand how to do it without that level of simplification. And pay attention – it TAKES SOMEONE WHO DOES KNOW – to actually design these things into simple steps that others can deal with! those ARE JOBS also? Who can do them? Certainly not the folks who can’t even do the work without it being broken down by someone else so they can cope!

    and that goes directly to jobs now days that are technology-laden and the guy/gal that can step in and LEARN to do a major function rather than simplified steps is hard to find in the workforce.

    You take folks out of high school and see what they actual have in the way of a education so they can step into a job that is automated but requires them to interact with computers, software, comms, etc…

    I think people are overwhelmed by the technology -myself… so overwhelmed that companies now have to actually break down their work into monkey see-monkey do or else they’d not be able to find qualified workers otherwise. People are simply not equipped to deal with needed 21st century work requirements.

  10. Larry The G’s Social Security disability map is very revealing.

    Take a look at the two regions with the highest rates — the Mississippi Delta and Central Appalachia.

    In the latter case, one has to ask why so many people are on disability. One would think that after 100 plus years of coal mining, the area would be among the richest anywhere. But it isn’t. All the wealth leaves.

    One reads much on this blog about the “War on Coal.” It should be: “Coal’s War on People.”

    • One reads much on this blog about the “War on Coal.”

      I haven’t written much of anything on that topic at all, so I wondered what you were referring to. I searched the blog for “war on coal”, and I did find 35 posts. Every single one had your by-line!!

      So, I guess one does read a lot on this blog about the war on coal.

    • You have a point. When coal mining jobs were plentiful they paid well. Yes, it was dangerous, dirty work but the paychecks were healthy – especially given the cost of living in those regions. Where did the money go? Higher incomes should have generated more in taxes and better schools but that didn’t seem to happen.

  11. Obviously, we live in a more complex world where virtually everyone needs a broad education and, often, specific training to be economically independent. Gone are the days where my Grandfather took an 8th grade education and became a stationary engineer whose math skills over sailed over my head.

    As Larry points out, we need to provide sufficient resources so that kids can get this type of education. His other point – should we pay taxes so that people can obtain knowledge of less useful things that don’t make a person job reading and well rounded deserves discussion.

    But at the same time, every student and his/her guardian needs to understand that they have a duty, a moral obligation, to make the best use of this education as possible. People who don’t fulfill their end of the bargain need to feel some shame.

    • well I’m not content with “shame” as long as taxpayers end up picking up the continuing and longer term entitlement bill for the poorly educated and motivated.

      We have to get past our tendency to want to find people and govt and institutions to blame and get on to how to fix.

      We are competing against other OECD countries who seem to have “got” the realities that we’re still denying and looking for scapegoats.

      IF what we are currently doing is not working and are wasting resources then balls of fire change what we are doing!

      all this group finger pointing is downright asinine.

      there are always going to be slackers and cheaters in this world but most folks want a job that they can feel good about doing and getting paid for.. that’s essentially what the now-defunct factory jobs gave folks… a purpose – and reason to work and raise a family and feel good about being breadwinners, valuing and participating in their community and get their kids off to their own lives.

      living on the dole destroys most folks sense of self worth – it takes away from them much more than the dollars it takes to pay rent and buy food… but when they go through 12 years of school and they still can’t get a job – they’re at a loss at what to do next. that was not a problem when factory in town was hiring…no experience needed!

      • Larry – what do you suggest we do with people who will not take advantage of what services (education) their neighbors pay for? How do you get people to take necessary actions to get an education & develop job skills? How do you motivate their parents/guardians to do their best to ensure their kids learn something?

        I commend Fairfax County Public Schools for offering some vocational training to students. I did a quick search and FCPS is not alone. Virginia Beach, for example, offers vocational education. http://www.techcenter.vbschools.com/ And so does Richmond. http://newweb.richmond.k12.va.us/schools/specialty/rtc.aspx

        In rural areas, the public school systems of Augusta County, Staunton, and Waynesboro have joined together to establish a joint program of career and technical educati0n. http://www.augusta.k12.va.us/valleyvts

        Again, I ask what is the obligation to take advantage of these taxpayer-funded opportunities?

        • the “obligation” ?

          I think that’s a good way to think of it.

          if what taxpayers “provide” is insufficient for what the job market requires.. then what is the “obligation” ? Is there an “obligation” to insure that what you are offering is going to meet the needs of the market?

          We’ve made genuine progress on some fronts but vocational education is NOT for folks who are weak or unqualified in 21st century- grade – reading and writing and critical thinking.

          In other words – are kids not bound for college sufficiently educated to be able to – for instance – read the technical manual for a specialty drone or write code for it … be able to troubleshoot it… be able to configure it for a specified use?

          or troubleshoot and/or upgrade an auto GPS system or a tire monitoring system or equivalent 21st century computerized,automated technology equipment?

          I do note that some school systems are actually having classes in drone technology or autonomous vehicle technology – or cloud-based data collection systems like INRIX – which counts cars on roads.. for traffic analysis and adaptive signal management… etc..

          are we providing access to the training that the job market wants or are we just providing something called “vocational” ?

          what we have an obligation for – is to provide the training that the job market wants – now – not 10,20,30 years ago.

          if we do not do that -what happens to the folks who don’t have the skills and knowledge necessary to get a job?

          you seem to think that if we do “something” and call it vocational that we’ve done all we can do and the rest is up to them.

          I say – look at the numbers… is what we are doing – actually effective and working?

          it’s not what we do -it’s does what we do – actually result in effective results – not 100% .. there will always be a certain number that will not succeed no matter what we do …

          but what is our benchmark in terms of effectiveness?

          it that not also our “obligation”?

          • I agree that the human spirit needs meaningful work to thrive. We were not made simply to slack. The inability to obtain work, to produce value & to see that value rewarded by compensation wrecks havoc on the human spirit.

            The education establishment must design and implement instruction that prepares youth to live and thrive as a functional member of society. Education must follow advances in knowledge and a changing world, without becoming trendy. More emphasis should be placed on ensuring as many kids as possible can master basic math, reading and writing in K-3.

            I think a good measurement of educational effectiveness is the number of students who pass to the next level of education who need remediation in basic subjects taught by the students’ previous schools. How many students from A Elementary need remedial courses at B Middle School? How many students from B Middle School need remedial courses at C High School? Etc.

  12. Peter – I can see coal country but what about places outside of coal country?

  13. No answer. Don’t know — also could be diet, smoking

    • Social Security Disability is tapped out…(NOT bankrupt or broke) every penny they get in FICA tax is now spent and they are going to be cutting benefits and probably tightening eligibility as I do not think Congress is in a mood to use general revenues to supplement it and nor should they in my view.

  14. And, bacon, interesting tactic. Without facts or logic, you paint your opponent as a raving lunatic

  15. TMT – we’re singing the same tune now… 😉

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