The Slow Disappearance of the American Working Man

Posted by Kendall Harmon

As President Barack Obama puts together a new jobs plan to be revealed shortly after Labor Day, he is up against a powerful force, long in the making, that has gone virtually unnoticed in the debate over how to put people back to work: Employers are increasingly giving up on the American man.

If that sounds bleak, it's because it is. The portion of men who work and their median wages have been eroding since the early 1970s. For decades the impact of this fact was softened in many families by the increasing number of women who went to work and took up the slack. More recently, the housing bubble helped to mask it by boosting the male-dominated construction trades, which employed millions. When real estate ultimately crashed, so did the prospects for many men. The portion of men holding a job—any job, full- or part-time—fell to 63.5 percent in July—hovering stubbornly near the low point of 63.3 percent it reached in December 2009. These are the lowest numbers in statistics going back to 1948. Among the critical category of prime working-age men between 25 and 54, only 81.2 percent held jobs, a barely noticeable improvement from its low point last year—and still well below the depths of the 1982-83 recession, when employment among prime-age men never dropped below 85 percent. To put those numbers in perspective, consider that in 1969, 95 percent of men in their prime working years had a job.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchGlobalizationHistoryMen* Economics, PoliticsEconomyCorporations/Corporate LifeLabor/Labor Unions/Labor Market

11 Comments
Posted August 29, 2011 at 8:02 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Capt. Father Warren wrote:

For one thing, women….. are adapting better to a data-driven economy that values education and collaborative skills more than muscle

Heh, heh, heh, a slight-of-the-hand phrase that translated means, WE DON’T MANUFACTURE ANYTHING ANYMORE.  So, the opportunities for men to design things, build things, push back frontiers, are pretty much disappearing.  A further indication that there is not much need for men.

August 29, 9:30 am | [comment link]
2. Sarah wrote:

It’s also a mix of apples and oranges.

The women—[who are working, that is, in white-collar jobs]—“are adapting better” than the men—[who are working, that is, in blue-collar jobs.]

Not a really fair comparison, as the women in blue-collar jobs are “adapting” about the same as the men in blue-collar jobs, which is not very well, since we have fewer and fewer of those!

I don’t see any real difference in the men’s or women’s “ability to adapt” in the US.  Women who have husbands or live-ins with blue-collar jobs are in the same boat as the men.

August 29, 10:38 am | [comment link]
3. Capt. Father Warren wrote:

When it comes to hard, heavy, dirty, exploratory work, especially of a pioneering nature, I think by and large that is still work men by nature are attracted to and a few women might eventually take up.

Two cases in point which are particular to my part of the country: commercial fishing and the off-shore oil industry.  I watch the shrimp and oyster boats head out of the harbor in Pass Christian where I keep my sailboat and there is NEVER EVER a woman on those boats.  These are physically demanding, dangerous jobs, where the payoff comes and goes: brutally hot in the summertime and bone-chilling in winter.

Similarly with the off-shore jobs.  There are women petroleum engineers to be sure and women helicopter pilots, but on the workboats and on the rigs where the work is harsh and dangerous, its the men you see.

As we make those jobs disappear, the opportunities for men seem to logically and disproportionally disapper also.  I’m not discounting the work women do, or their attraction to the work they take on, but as we become a number crunching society (or whatever it is we are becoming?), there is a class, or spectrum, of men who lack the opportunities they desire because we are not doing the things they were wired to do.

August 29, 11:07 am | [comment link]
4. Sarah wrote:

RE: “When it comes to hard, heavy, dirty, exploratory work, especially of a pioneering nature, I think by and large that is still work men by nature are attracted to and a few women might eventually take up.”

I completely agree.  But I’m just pointing out that it’s not merely the blue collar jobs that involve hard work out there that are declining.  Just to name one instance—law firms now use far far far far fewer legal assistants—which were predominantly women—than 10-20 years ago because technology allows lawyers to produce far more work “on their own” without legal assistants.

I was just noting that it’s unfair of the article to claim that men are not “adapting” well in a data-driven economy, but women are.  The author is, again, comparing apples to oranges.

Put white-collar men next to white-collar women and both are “adapting” just fine in the data-driven economy.

August 29, 12:26 pm | [comment link]
5. Formerly Marion R. wrote:

A species that is not producing offspring can hardly be thought of as “adapting”.

August 29, 3:07 pm | [comment link]
6. Capt. Father Warren wrote:

Put white-collar men next to white-collar women and both are “adapting” just fine in the data-driven economy

I have thought about this off and on all day.  I agree that the college educated white collar man and the college educated white collar woman should adapt equally well to our data driven economy.

As our economy continues to shun manufacturing and the fruits of physical labor I think we are leaving a lot of the blue-collar men in the dust. 

Blue-collar women are also impacted, but I think they are more ready to work at Walmart and other service entities where they might have a shot at low-level managment positions.

There are a lot of men who want nothing to do with college.  They want to work with their hands, be outside, using the physical gifts God gave them.  A lot of them aren’t going to go stock shelves at Walmart or ring a cash register (do cash registers even ring anymore?).  I even have a friend who grew up in an automotive family, got an MBA, and after a few years went back to work in the shop…...and is far happier (rebuilding engines, not in the front office).

A lot of people roll their eyes when I frequently say this (I see them rolling out there), but as we continue to evolve into a society and culture that has no use for manhood, I believe we are going to be the poorer for it.  Typically where this comes up is the periodic discussions in vestry meetings “how can we get men more involved in the church?”.  “Maybe we should start a men’s bible study where they can talk about their feelings in private”........ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!

August 29, 7:38 pm | [comment link]
7. Betsybrowneyes wrote:

Having grown up in the 50s and 60s in the greater Pittsburgh area, where steel mills went for miles along the riverbanks from Pittsburgh to WV, I could navigate my way home after dark by the direction of the glow from the open hearth. When so many of our manufacturing jobs were shipped overseas through favored-nation trade agreements and tough environmental regulations, thousands of jobs dried up and the whole culture was affected. Why is this not mentioned?

August 29, 8:16 pm | [comment link]
8. John Wilkins wrote:

Not sure why people are complaining.  The free market allows for us to drive labor costs down.  We’ve implicitly agreed that we think that Americans should have to compete with people in developing countries for jobs.  They’re learning English; the technology allows for out sourcing; and individuals have a right to work for what the market bears.  Gone are the days when a man could be able to have a blue collar job, support an entire family and have extended vacations with their kids.

August 29, 9:46 pm | [comment link]
9. Capt. Father Warren wrote:

Gone are the days when a man could be able to have a blue collar job, support an entire family and have extended vacations with their kids

Yes they are, if that is the kind of America people want.  But it does not have to be carved in stone that way.  We strangle manufacturing in a mountain of regulations which could be rescinded tomorrow.  We hamstring manufacturing with the fictional minimum wage which forces automation and prevents lower paying jobs for lower-value labor and ships those jobs overseas where the fiction is not maintained.  And in the greatest travesty of all, we ban the development of our energy industry which pays superior wages for hard work, wages that many college grads may never see.  In an industry that creates myriad spin-off jobs which hard working blue-collar folks (men and women) can excel at and be proud of.

Americans have never had a problem with competition when the playing ground was level, or even close to level.

August 30, 8:05 am | [comment link]
10. Sarah wrote:

I see that Capt. Deacon Warren has already nicely answered this irrelevant statement: “The free market allows for us to drive labor costs down.”

True—but since we don’t have a free market in the US in regards to much of work any more, we have to suffer through the consequences of central planning. 

Can’t wait for 13 months from now when I expect that conservatives—those who value the free market, individual liberty, private property rights, the Constitution, and limited government—will hopefully gain more seats in the Senate and replace Republicans and Democrats who care about none of the above.

One of the great things about the past 8 or so years has been the reflourishing and re-energizing of those who *do* care about those things, from the grass roots on up.

Here’s to a hundred more Jim DeMints.

August 30, 9:40 am | [comment link]
11. Betsybrowneyes wrote:

Well said, Sarah. Government does not create jobs. People in the private sector do.

August 30, 4:04 pm | [comment link]
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