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The Problem Of Lazy Men

A reader sends a link to this George F. Will column about idle men. Excerpts:

The “quiet catastrophe” is particularly dismaying because it is so quiet, without social turmoil or even debate. It is this: After 88 consecutive months of the economic expansion that began in June 2009, a smaller percentage of American males in the prime working years (ages 25 to 54) are working than were working near the end of the Great Depression in 1940, when the unemployment rate was above 14 percent. If the labor-force participation rate were as high today as it was as recently as 2000, nearly 10 million more Americans would have jobs.

The work rate for adult men has plunged 13 percentage points in a half-century. This “work deficit” of “Great Depression-scale underutilization” of male potential workers is the subject of Nicholas Eberstadt’s new monograph “Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis,” which explores the economic and moral causes and consequences of this:

Since 1948, the proportion of men 20 and older without paid work has more than doubled, to almost 32 percent. This “eerie and radical transformation” — men creating an “alternative lifestyle to the age-old male quest for a paying job” — is largely voluntary. Men who have chosen to not seek work are two-and-a-half times more numerous than men who government statistics count as unemployed because they are seeking jobs.

Note well: he’s not talking about men who want work but can’t find it. Will points out that for most of these men, it’s not a matter of there being no jobs:

Only about 15 percent of men ages 25 to 54 who worked not at all in 2014 said they were unemployed because they could not find work.

Read it all.

The reader adds:

I live in what the elites would consider a “white trash” neighborhood in Massachusetts — Northern Hillbillies if you will. I would estimate that 50% of the men don’t work in my neighborhood. Some are mooching off their girlfriends; many others are on federal disability. The sheer number of men on disability where I live truly shocks me.

And it’s a major social problem. Idle men without work spell trouble. Men with too much time on their hands turn to drink, drugs, fighting. They may fear work, but they are forever restless.

It reminds me of an episode of the great sitcom “King of Queens” when the main character Doug Heffernan (Kevin James), a parcel delivery driver, goes on strike. At first he is enthused by all the household projects he’s going to get done with his free time but soon he winds up on the couch overeating all day and then even worse, as the strike drags on, he and his fellow driver Deacon, and even his father-in-law (played by Jerry Stiller) start reverting to adolescent delinquent behavior.

This is a real problem where I live and apparently all over America. At one time being out of work voluntarily was unthinkable for any adult. These days in many places it is the norm.

If someone has a real disability I’m all for them being supported. But have we gone too far?

It certainly seems that we have. But how do you rebuild a culture of self-respect in these idle men? To what extent does this have to do with the loss of the working man and father as an icon in American life? When and how did we lose the stigma on able-bodied men choosing not to work if there were jobs available? When and why did we stop calling them lazy bums? Thoughts?

I’ll say this: I don’t blame a woman for not wanting to marry an idler.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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