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The share of unemployed American men age 25 to 54 has more than tripled since the late 1960s. Many of them want to work, but the wages paid by what few jobs are available don’t support a desirable quality of life. They struggle with a loss of income and dignity, and suffer diminished mental and physical health as a result.

Even before the issue of low wages is considered, the fundamental reality is that the jobs aren’t there. The most recent federal data shows that there are only 4.8 million jobs available for 10 million prime-age men in addition to men and women of all ages.

Additionally, foreign competition and technological advances have eliminated many of the jobs that were available to people who didn’t go to college. 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,” found that 85 percent of prime-age men without jobs also lack bachelor’s degrees. One-third said they had criminal records, which makes finding work even harder.

“Many men, in particular, have decided that low-wage work will not improve their lives,” The New York Times reports. Changes in American society, including the availability of federal disability benefits, the decline of marriage, and the rise of the Internet mean it’s easier for them to live without working. Men without spouses or partners don’t have to earn incomes big enough to support a family, and the Internet has made unemployment less isolating.

Laziness is not the cause. Among the 45 percent of men who said they had looked for a job in the last year, large majorities said they would be willing to work nights and weekends, start over in a new field, return to school or move to a new city to get one. Those who qualify for disability fear that returning to work would mean the loss of their benefits — followed by the loss of their new job.

“I would rather be working,” said one middle-aged man interviewed by the Times. “Then I wouldn’t be so bored.”

In an article published Dec. 12, the Times described the effect on the national economy:

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.”

… “When the legal, entry-level economy isn’t providing a wage that allows someone a convincing and realistic option to become an adult — to go out and get married and form a household — it demoralizes them and shunts them into illegal economies,” said Philippe Bourgois, an anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania who has studied the lives of young men in urban areas. “It’s not a choice that has made them happy. They would much rather be adults in a respectful job that pays them and promises them benefits.”

Read more here.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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