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Farewell to the working man

Low demand for jobs contributes to our workforce death spiral at least as much as low supply.

The New York Times on Friday published a brooding report on the demise of the male American workforce, which they take great pains to avoid connecting to liberal economic policies, even though just about every line of the article makes that connection plain.

The key passage comes beneath a string of bummer poll numbers, which deliver such revelations that only 64 percent of men surveyed say they want a job, and only 45 percent have looked for one in the past year… while 44 percent think jobs they’re not willing to take are available in their area.

As the economy slowly recovers from the Great Recession, many of those men and women are eager to find work and willing to make large sacrifices to do so. Many others, however, are choosing not to work, according to a New York Times/CBS News/Kaiser Family Foundation poll that provides a detailed look at the lives of the 30 million Americans 25 to 54 who are without jobs.

“Slowly recovering from the Great Recession?”  You Democrat partisans have been telling us for years that the mighty Obama recovery was well under way, firing on all cylinders, from one Recovery Summer to the next.  You worked hard to put the same failed president back in office, so he could keep pushing his no-growth agenda.  Also, although this Times article returns to the subject of the Great Recession time and again, most of the social and economic forces cited as crushing the male workforce don’t have anything to do with economic downturns.

Many men, in particular, have decided that low-wage work will not improve their lives, in part because deep changes in American society have made it easier for them to live without working. These changes include the availability of federal disability benefits; the decline of marriage, which means fewer men provide for children; and the rise of the Internet, which has reduced the isolation of unemployment.

Whoa – two paragraphs, two major Narrative violations!  It’s been an article of liberal faith for generations that employment is not in any way driven by workers’ demand for labor.  When conservative critics of the welfare state point out that its trillion-dollar generosity provides a disincentive to work, they’re denounced as heartless.  Why, everyone knows the noble clients of the welfare state can’t wait to get jobs!  The problem is that greedy fatcat businessmen won’t spend the money to hire them.

Social conservatives who talk about the importance of traditional marriage to social stability and economic vibrancy are likewise denounced as mindless religious zealots who just want to impose their squaresville values on a swinging, fun-loving young nation.  But here’s the New York Times citing the “decline of marriage” as one of the major reasons men are losing their motivation to work hard and pursue opportunity!  Later in the article, it is said that “37 percent of the decline in male employment since 1979 could be explained by this retreat from marriage and fatherhood.”  Did Rick Santorum break into the Times office and hijack a word processor to put this article together?

And who cares about stupid men working anyway?  Shouldn’t liberals be happy those Neanderthals are getting out of the job market and setting up more glass ceilings to be shattered?  How’s a good feminist, or feminist-cowed liberal, supposed to process the idea that men have some unique value to the strength of the economy?

At the same time, it has become harder for men to find higher-paying jobs. Foreign competition and technological advances have eliminated many of the jobs in which high school graduates like Mr. Walsh once could earn $40 an hour, or more. The poll found that 85 percent of prime-age men without jobs do not have bachelor??s degrees. And 34 percent said they had criminal records, making it hard to find any work.

“Mr. Walsh” is a gentleman from Maryland briefly interviewed to set the mood for the article.  He “still pays dues to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, but more than four years have passed since his name was called at the union hall where the few available jobs are distributed.”  So much for organized labor – another pillar of the Left’s economic model.

The article tastefully fails to mention that some of the “foreign competition” keeping guys like Walsh unemployed is crossing the border and doing its competing right here on American soil.  Just wait until Barack Obama dumps another five million illegal aliens into this skin-tight job market, just for starters.  There are demographic groups in certain regions that will be telling their grandchildren bedtime stories about what having a job was like.  Some of those groups have been heavy Obama supporters until now, but haven’t yet grasped just how ruthlessly Obama has set about replacing them with a new imported constituency.

The resulting absence of millions of potential workers has serious consequences not just for the men and their families but for the nation as a whole. A smaller work force is likely to lead to a slower-growing economy, and will leave a smaller share of the population to cover the cost of government, even as a larger share seeks help.

??They??re not working, because it??s not paying them enough to work,? said Alan B. Krueger, a leading labor economist and a professor at Princeton. ??And that means the economy is going to be smaller than it otherwise would be.?

Liberal tax and regulatory policies crush innovation and entrepreneurship; welfare dependency removes the incentive to work; the demise of traditional marriage makes men less motivated to get ahead, while breaking down social networks that helped young men enter the workforce; the Democrats are doing their best to kill the entry-level job market with minimum-wage hikes and out-of-control illegal immigration; and the result is going to be a workforce too small to generate the tax revenue Big Government needs to survive.  Of course, we all know that when this death spiral gets too steep to paper over with deficit spending, the Left will try to keep things groaning along for a few more years by jacking up taxes on what remains of the private sector, especially job creators.

The Non-Working Man is caught in a pincer between reduced incentives to work, and higher expectations for his standard of living.  That’s one of the driving factors behind socialist expansion: their welfare ideal isn’t about providing vitally-needed temporary assistance to people who might otherwise starve.  It’s about guaranteeing the trappings of middle-class life – right down to the absurd, heavily-abused Lifeline program that milks the rest of us with taxes so that welfare dependents can have “free” cellphones.

As several of the anecdotes in the NYT article illustrate, it’s not that difficult for single men to arrange a perpetual twilight that mixes government benefits, informal grey-market side jobs, part-time or temporary work, and support from their parents.  The results are emasculating – the men described by the New York Times are “struggling both with the loss of income and a loss of dignity” while “their mental and physical health is suffering – and yet, as those survey results make clear, a hefty percentage of jobless men won’t apply for the jobs available in their area.  Besides the resources available to help them maintain a semblance of middle-class life while jobless, they also have many distractions to fill their non-working hours, thanks especially to the Internet.

It seems like stating the obvious to say that a vibrant economy features plenty of jobs on offer, and plenty of people who want to take them… and yet, that must be stated, over and over again, because liberal dogma is built entirely around denying that basic truth… or designing schemes that pervert it to their advantage.  There’s nothing the hard-core social-engineering Left wants more than a part-time nation, staffed by people who work very hard at jobs that simply don’t pay them enough to make ends meet without government assistance.  The haze of despair hanging over the unemployed men in the Times article is sweet as honey to the socialist tongue – that’s exactly what they want men to feel like, because it makes them childlike.  The borderline-employed single guy filling his non-working hours with online diversions lives in a state of eternal adolescence.  They know it’s wrong – that’s why they describe themselves as feeling mentally and physically ill – but they can be made to accept it by manipulating their ambitions and expectations.  Dissolving the traditional family disables the drive men might otherwise feel to demand greater opportunities, and assert their independence.

Looking at the state of the Non-Working Man makes it clear that employment is not just a matter of tossing out job applications, and it most definitely isn’t about devising more Big Government spending programs to “create jobs.”  It’s about opportunity and ambition.  It can be difficult to discuss the demand side of the job market without sounding like you’re criticizing a bunch of lazy bums for preferring couch-potato lifestyles to hard work.  Ambition is a far more complex topic than that, especially the sort of ambition that leads people to accomplish extraordinary things, and make efforts they didn’t realize they were capable of.  A great deal of what redistributive, hyper-regulatory nanny government does is about suppressing ambition – making people feel like they have no right to keep what they earn, making them feel like chumps for working hard to earn it in the first place, and judging the ambitions of some to be more worthwhile than others.  We need to turn all that around, and begin nourishing health ambition, pronto.

Written By

John Hayward began his blogging career as a guest writer at Hot Air under the pen name "Doctor Zero," producing a collection of essays entitled Doctor Zero: Year One. He is a great admirer of free-market thinkers such as Arthur Laffer, Milton Friedman, and Thomas Sowell. He writes both political and cultural commentary, including book and movie reviews. An avid fan of horror and fantasy fiction, he has produced an e-book collection of short horror stories entitled Persistent Dread. John is a former staff writer for Human Events. He is a regular guest on the Rusty Humphries radio show, and has appeared on numerous other local and national radio programs, including G. Gordon Liddy, BattleLine, and Dennis Miller.

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