October 23, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
As if being a father isn’t hard enough, now there’s this.
We are at a point in our history at which dads are caught betwixt and between. Traditional sex roles demand that they be providers for their wives and kids. New sex roles demand that they be caregivers for their kids. But fathers who do the former are reviled as being indifferent to their children because they failed to do enough hands-on childcare. The idea that earning the money to feed, house, clothe and educate their children doesn’t constitute parenting is one of the many false and downright loony notions of our time. But in family court, it’s expressed every day in judges’ parenting time orders.
And what if Dad does step up and play the role of parent the way Mom does? He earns less, advances less in his career and saves less for retirement, and if Mom decides to divorce him, he may still be treated by the judge like fathers so often are – as indifferent to their kids and disposable in their lives. Into the bargain, anti-father zealots in the news media will pretend he never did the hands-on parenting he in fact did.
That brings us to George Will’s National Review article linked to. Sure enough, it bemoans the failure of men to do more paid work and all but calls them slackers in the process.
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 that government statistics count as unemployed because they are seeking jobs.
What Eberstadt calls a “normative sea change” has made it a “viable option” for “sturdy men,” who are neither working nor looking for work, to choose “to sit on the economic sidelines, living off the toil or bounty of others.”
Voluntary? Don’t be too sure. I’ll deal with that notion a bit later.
For now, where’s the effusive praise men should be getting for stepping up for their kids more than fathers of previous generations did? Nowhere to be found. No, in the article’s telling, men are first, last and always resource providers. Fail to do that and they’ll be denigrated by Will, Eberstadt and others who utterly fail to (a) take note of obvious facts and (b) ask obvious questions. And that’s not to mention the article’s astonishing anti-male sexism.
Researcher Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute is deeply troubled by the lack of workforce participation (working age people who are either employed or looking for work) on the part of men.
For 50 years, the number of men in that age cohort who are neither working nor looking for work has grown nearly four times faster than the number who are working or seeking work. And the pace of this has been “almost totally uninfluenced by the business cycle.”…
In 1965, even high-school dropouts were more likely to be in the workforce than is the 25 to 54 male today. And, Eberstadt notes, “the collapse of work for modern America’s men happened despite considerable upgrades in educational attainment.”
Eberstadt is a respected researcher, and his facts are roughly correct, but if Will’s article fairly represents his point of view, he needs to work a lot harder and consider important issues he apparently hasn’t. Needless to say, so does Will.
I recently compiled a graph of workforce participation by men and women in the United States in five-year increments from 1950 to 2015. I did so using exclusively historical data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s a simple graph (that I wish I had time to reproduce here). There’s a line for male labor-force participation, one for female labor force participation and one in the middle that’s the average of the two.
So, for example, in 1950, about 86% of men of working age were part of the labor force and about 35% of women were. From there, the men’s graph descends steadily until 2000 while the women’s graph ascends steadily until the same year. That is, over those 50 years male and female labor force participation rates are, roughly, mirror images of each other. From 2000 to 2015, both graphs, as well as the average, decline.
That’s interesting information, but what’s more interesting is the middle line, i.e. the average. It’s interesting because for all those 65 years from 1950 to 2015, the average of men’s and women’s labor force participation changes very little. When all the men and all the women who are working or looking for work are put together, the average varies in a very narrow range from a low of 60% to a high of 67%. In 1950, 60% of all men and women were either working or looking for work. In 2015, 62.5% of them were. The low was in 1950; the high (67%) came in 2000.
This means a couple of things. First, it means that the U.S. economy offers either an actual job or the believable promise of one to a certain, barely varying, percentage of men and women, i.e. no less than 60% and no more than 67%. In the entire post-WWII period, it’s never done better than it did in 2000 when it provided jobs or the promise thereof to 67% of adults and never worse than in 1950. We are now trending toward that 1950 low point.
The second important conclusion is that, with some leeway, employment is a zero-sum game. For every job gained by a woman, one is lost to a man. Let me be clear: the labor force has expanded greatly due to population growth from 1950 to 2015, so the number of jobs has expanded too, keeping up with population growth. And since the average of men’s and women’s combined labor force participation has fluctuated somewhat, it’s not an absolutely zero-sum game.
But it’s close. We’ve long hectored women to put aside childcare and join the corporate rat race and many have done just that. But my handy little graph gives us a much better explanation for the decline in male workforce participation than anything noted by Will or Eberstadt. Again, job gains by women have meant job losses for men. That’s been a policy decision. We’ve consciously, intentionally encouraged women to be self-supporting and most agree that it’s a good and necessary thing. But we can’t now denigrate males for failing to, in some way, seek and obtain jobs that don’t exist.
Before I connect this to Will’s article further, allow me a word about the post-2000 trend. In a word, it’s down. It’s down for men, down for women and down on average. From 2000 to 2015, men’s workforce participation declined from about 74.5% to about 69.2% while women’s declined from 60% to about 56.4%. The average declined from 67.5% to 62.5%. For the past 15 years, everyone’s losing and the trend shows no sign of reversing itself.
So the question I have for Will and Eberstadt is this: why is the decline in workforce participation rates solely men’s problem? How is it that each places the problem squarely at the door of layabout men? For decades now, we’ve been told that women can do anything men can do, so why not ask them to do so now? Why not note the glaringly obvious – that, as low as men’s labor force participation is, it’s still 13 points higher than women’s?
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