Behavior Changes When You Are Unemployed?

I ran into this recently. It’s an article that referencing the effect of unemployment on mental health. This post might seem whiny though I’m going to try to make it as nonpersonal  as possible . On the other hand I’ve been through the despair that comes with unemployment enough times to understand what’s going on and maybe what can be done to overcome it. though it doesn’t work every time.

It’s a fairly thorough analysis of what happens to the long term unemployed. But it doesn’t really go into why. Consider this essay.

Now consider that when somebody is unemployed the one thing they keep hearing from just about everybody is that they have a problem and it’s their fault. Over and  over, people will keep telling the poor sap who lost their job that what happened to them was their fault even when those people have no clue what really went on. The poor person who lost his job just hears the same stuff over and over.  Why were you laid off?  What have you been doing since you lost your job?  You applied at XX places and couldn’t get hired?  Somehow the poor person is supposed to perform miracles of persuasion and just get right back into the saddle even when things have gone to pot. Somehow the entire burden of the economy, bad business practices and just plain stupidity all lay on the poor person who didn’t want what happened to them to happen and would not have done anything to create the mess in the first place.

Then there’s the failure issues.  In just about every other human activity, you can succeed more than once.  So if you fail over and over, but keep trying you will get some successes. Or you can quit.  The typical job seeker can’t quit.  The only thing that he can do is fail, over and over, until  success and release. The job seeker is stuck in frustration and failure that they would do anything to end, but have no control over.

So the poor guy, and by and large it is men who have taken the hit in this economy is left without hope for a future.  Is any wonder that suicides among men are up?  Frankly it’s amazing that things aren’t even worse.  The way things are going, there are going to be real problems as more people have a ton of bottled up anger and frustration and no hope for any change.

Rush Limbaugh said this recently.

The labor force participation rate is right now around 62%.  That’s the lowest it’s been since the seventies, the Jimmy Carter seventies. “This Friday, a new jobs report will come out. If the Wall Street consensus is correct, it will show the unemployment rate continuing to hover around 5% while nonfarm payrolls will grow about 180,000 for the month. But that won’t tell the whole story.

“Nicholas Eberstadt, a fellow,” that just means he’s a thinker, “at the American Enterprise Institute, argues in a new book called ‘Men Without Work,’ due out next week, that we’re suffering not from full employment, but massive underemployment — in particular, nearly one out of six working-age men have no job and are no longer looking for one. A release for his book calls this ‘a hidden time bomb with far-reaching economic, social and political consequences.’ With 10 million fewer male workers in the labor force than we should have, it’s hard to disagree. This portends an entire generation of men with only a tenuous connection to the discipline and rewards of work…”

Now, I gotta say something that’s gonna be… In this day and age, it’s entirely yet unnecessarily provocative.  For the longest time… You know, the values of work are many and varied, and some of them are direct, such as producing income.  I mean, you have to live.  Work is how you earn your living.  It’s how you pay the bills.  I mean, that’s the direct, number one benefit of work.  But there are so many others — and it has always been true, whether the feminazis want to hear it or not.

When talking about men — and men and women are different, and I don’t care what anybody thinks, says, or tries to say otherwise. Men and women are different, and men have derived their sense of self-worth from their work.  Not only, but a great, great percentage. A great percentage of the self-worth that men have comes from their career, their job, their work.  That is how they define themselves.  Their job, their work, their career, their adjustments is from where they derive their self-esteem, and it may be becoming true for an increasing number of women as our culture evolves.

I’m not trying to exclude women, but for the longest time that was one of the unhidden, unmentioned but very tangible aspects of men working.  And you take that away and you have a problem on your hands. Not just the idle time, not just the lack of revenue, not just no income being produced, not just the inability to provide for yourself. The whole idea for many past generations of men — the test was, the objective was, the measure of a man was — how well he provides for family, protection, income, and all that.

Now, feminism sought to attack that, because they saw that as giving men more substance and more meaning and not including women and so forth.  But, look, all that’s cockamamie, because it happens to be psychologically and physiologically true.  Men do not derive their self-esteem from whether or not they can play golf, how many beers they can consume on Friday night or any of that.  Now, sadly some do, but I’m speaking here now on traditional majority ways.

If you take all that away, you have a recipe for big problems.

You have men who feel worthless, purposeless, and unnecessary.  And that is what is being discussed here:  “An entire generation of men with only a tenuous connection to the discipline and rewards of work, it’ll have an enormous impact on future generations of young men.  It’s not exclusively a problem of the lower income classes, however.  Today women make up 57% of all college graduates, meaning that men in the current generation will be enormously underrepresented in the well-paying professions that require a college degree.”

That is not, by the way, by accident.  There is a reason fewer and fewer men go to college.  There’s a reason fewer and fewer men want to go to college.  So this guy’s theory is that “[i]n short, men are in danger of becoming a hidden, and combustible, underclass,” and that’s not good.  A pull quote from the piece: “This is indeed a silent time bomb ticking at the heart of our economy. To ignore it will surely lead the U.S. down the path to terminal economic and productivity decline, a lower standard of living and an also-ran status among the global economies.”

Men and women are different.  And men not working, men not producing, are men who don’t have a lot of self-worth.  And you know what happens from that.  If you don’t like yourself, forget anybody else.  If you don’t value yourself, if you have a perpetual inferiority complex, just in itself that’s not good. It’s exacerbated by these kinds of economic trends. “Okay, Rush, so what’s your solution?” Well, that’s not… We’re not at that stage yet, and I doubt that a whole lot of people would automatically agree with any of this.

He was referring to this piece in the Investor’s Business Daily.

Eberstadt, who is highly respected on both sides of the political spectrum for his rigorous use of data, notes a number of shocking statistics that belie the current wisdom of a booming jobs market. To wit:

  • Men age 25 to 54 now have a lower labor participation rate than they did in 1940, as the Great Depression was winding down. It’s also far lower than in 1948, the year millions of men from World War II were flooding the labor market.
  • As noted earlier, one in six men today have no job and most have given up looking. At current trends, one in five will be out of the labor force in a generation.
  • African-American men are twice as likely to be in this condition as either whites or Latinos.
  • Many of these nonworking men support themselves by government disability benefits.
  • Surveys show an alarming increase among men age 25 to 54, the prime working years, engaged in doing such things as “socializing, relaxing and leisure,” “attending gambling establishments,” “tobacco and drug use,” “listening to the radio” and “arts and crafts as a hobby.” Many men, it seems, have virtually no work skills at all — and no way to get them.
  • Many of these trends in the collapse of male work may be a result of our soaring prison population and the “prevalence of non-institutionalized felons and ex-prisoners,” Eberstadt argues.

This portends an entire generation of men with only a tenuous connection to the discipline and rewards of work, and will have an enormous impact on future generations of young men. This is not exclusively a problem of the lower income classes. Today, women make up 57% of all college graduates, meaning that men in the current generation will be enormously underrepresented in the well-paying professions that require a college degree.

short, men are in danger of becoming a hidden, and combustible, underclass. And Eberstadt isn’t the only one who has noticed.

“Over the last three decades the labor-market trajectory of males in the U.S. has turned downward along four dimensions: skills acquisition, employment rates, occupational stature and real wage levels,” wrote MIT economists David Autor and Melanie Wasserman in “Wayward Sons: The Emerging Gender Gap in Labor and Education.”

In other words, in every important category men are losing ground.

The MIT economists further argue that young men “born into low-income, single-parent-headed households — which, in the vast majority of cases are female-headed households — appear to fare particularly poorly on numerous social and educational outcomes.” With more and more males born into single-parent households, the crisis won’t end soon.

Eberstadt in 2013 warned that our reliance on the standard unemployment rate “seriously disguises and understates the magnitude of the ongoing jobs crisis.”

We agree fully. As we wrote last week in IBD: “We keep hearing we are ‘at or near full employment.’ … This, frankly, is nonsense. Since 2006, the U.S. population has grown from 298 million people to 323 million people, a gain of 25 million, or 8.4%. Over that same time, the number of people who have left the labor force jumped from 76.7 million to 94.3 million, a 23% increase. That’s not full employment.”

Caution: Men (Not) At Work

Our elites don’t understand these problems because they don’t have them. If an elite is out of work for a long time they are “on sabbatical” and can live off the savings that they can build up from the millions that they get paid in those no show jobs.  They don’t have to face the anxieties that the rest of have.  And for some reason, probably because typically the only thing that they have ever had to work for was the school they got into. they never learn the pleasure of working for something worthwhile so they don’t understand that feeling. So they think that everybody  will be perfectly happy without work.  Which is terribly wrong.


To see what I mean, let’s look at something that elites consistently fail to talk about in any meaningful way: good jobs. Oh, we talk around those things. We talk about trade and immigration, if forced, though we do not of course do any listening on the same topic. We talk about inequality, and paid leave. We talk about education. Politicians make ritual obeisances toward the necessity of decent work, promising that some policy, laughably inadequate to the task, will provide thousands of good jobs doing something we want to do for completely different reasons, like reducing carbon emissions.

But neither party has any meaningful policy to foster good work — by which I mean work that offers opportunity, stability, respect and enough money to raise a family.  The closest either party comes is the $15-an-hour minimum wage, a policy with the slight drawback that it may throw a lot of people out of work.

Instead of asking how we have ended up with an economy that offers stability and reward only to the holders of a college diploma, and how we might change that, elites of both parties focus on the things they want for themselves. Republicans offer tax cuts and deregulation, as if everyone in America were going to become an entrepreneur. Democrats offer free college tuition and paid maternity leave, as if these things were a great benefit to people who don’t have the ability, preparation or inclination to sit through four years of college, and as a result, can’t find a decent job from which to take their leave.

While there are a lot of things on the parties’ agendas that primarily benefit the educated, there are very few that primarily benefit people who aren’t like us. The implicit assumption of elites in both parties is that the solution for the rest of the country is to become more like us, either through education or entrepreneurship. Rarely does anyone discuss how we might build an economy that works for people who aren’t like us and don’t want to turn into us.

And the giant hole at the center of this discussion we aren’t having is work. We talk a lot about how to palliate the effects of a labor market that no longer offers many rewards to the less educated. We act as if jobs inevitably grow, like weeds, in the fertile soil of capitalism. Or worse, as if they were a sort of optional intermediary step in the important business of distributing money and fringe benefits. Given how central work is to the lives of the elite, how fearful we are of losing our own careers, this belief is somewhat inexplicable. It’s also politically suicidal, as the current moment now shows us.

People have been pondering the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, wondering why people are suddenly so exercised by populism at a moment when employment is all right, incomes are not plummeting, China is faltering, and Mexican immigration is flowing south across the border rather than north. The simple answer is that people don’t worry about statistics. They worry about their own lives, and especially, they worry about work.

Even if they are still consuming the same amount of stuff, even if their incomes are all right for the moment, if people feel that they cannot count on work, then they will feel helpless and frightened, and they will turn to politicians who can assuage those fears by pointing to specific enemies who can be vanquished to secure their safety.

Democrats convinced that they have the answer to populism in the form of more social welfare programs are as gravely mistaken as the Republicans who focused on the same old pro-business program while the populist revolution was rising in their own party. Populist movements do not arise because people are desperately worried about inadequate tuition subsidies. They arise because people are worried about their physical security and their ability to make a decent life for themselves.

And “for themselves” is the important phrase in that sentence. Of course it is true that no man is an island; anything you have beyond what you could wring out of the land with your own hands without benefit of modern tools is as much a product of the society around you as it is of your own efforts. But that does not mean that most people will be content to be the well-fed wards of that society, or for that matter, to be the wardens. Most people want to be in a reciprocal relationship with the society around them, providing valued labor in return for valued goods and services. Giving them the goods and services without the work is as unsatisfying as giving someone an Olympic gold medal for a sport they’ve never competed in.

There is no better example of the folly of the elites than the current fashion for a universal basic income among both liberals and libertarians. Instead of trying to figure out something hard, like how to build an economy that provides adequate work for everyone, the idea is to do something easy, like give them checks.

I’ve argued about the technical aspects of this before — how much it would cost, what it would mean for immigration policy, how difficult it would actually be to replace many of the welfare programs that are supposed to be cut to pay for it with a straight-out cash transfer. Leave those aside. The idea that a universal basic income can substitute for a job is exactly the sort of thing that makes sense to an educated elite that already has a lot of other sources of status and reward in our society.

I’ve sat on a lot of panels on this topic, and inevitably someone waxes lyrical about the creative possibilities that will be unleashed by a universal basic income, the opportunities for art, community service, political activism, cultivation of family and friends. This is, needless to say, completely divorced from the actual experience of communities with high rates of long-term dependence, whether they are American communities where Social Security disability has become a substitute for long-gone industrial work, or European countries with a long-term dole.

Being out of work makes people unhappy and depressed, even when they have an income stream to take care of their basic needs. What those unhappy depressed people mostly increase when they are out of work is their sleeping and television-watching; during the great recession, volunteering, education and exercise basically didn’t budge.

But how many of today’s mandarin class are actually intimately familiar with those types of communities? Very few, so instead they imagine the only dependent community they are familiar with: a college dormitory.

I will give the universal basic income people this much; even if they aren’t really grappling with the need for work, at least they understand that there is a problem in the labor markets. That’s more than you’d gather from the major speeches or the policy programs of our two main political parties.

If the elites want to sell market liberalism, and immigration, and all the rest of the package, then the first thing they have to do is stop talking to each other about these things, and start thinking about how to listen and talk to everyone else.

Don’t answer every question about jobs with boilerplate about clean energy, or entrepreneurship, or anything that assumes that the solution to our problems is to somehow arrange for everyone in America to get a four-year degree.

Don’t assume that the rest of the country is full of Morlocks who do not need what you have for yourself: a stable job that connects you to other people, gives you a sense of usefulness and security, and offers you some chance at an even better future.

Don’t try to assuage security concerns about immigration by comparing terrorism to car accidents, or any other impersonal and undeterrable force. In other words, treat people as people, with normal people-type emotions, rather than abstract statistics, or undifferentiated blobs of human potential waiting to be molded into your image.

The fact is that the long term unemployed are the victims of a romantic vision that really has no understanding of them.  All those men feel trapped by circumstances so far beyond their control that they have given up because they feel that there is nothing that they can change that will improve the lives that others have created for them.

The problem is that the regulated society created and maintained by the elites is not one that is healthy.  In fact you can see the sickness in the loss of trust, the fences everywhere, the divisions, the drug use, the constant rent seeking and all the rest of it.  The elites may think that they are protected, but they are not.  They are as embroiled in the mess that they have created as the rest if us, with terrible consequences  all around.  It’s time to take the medicine.


One comment

  1. CoolHand · September 2

    They won’t take the medicine, because they don’t think they’re sick.

    If only they could get rid of the rest of us Dirt People who just won’t do as we’re told by our betters.

    They’ll be mystified by people’s motivations even while they’re being dragged from their walled off homes and hung from lamp posts.

    They are so educated (far past their own understanding usually) and so convinced of their own superiority that the idea that they might be wrong doesn’t even enter into their minds.

    Hubris just doesn’t adequately describe it, really.

    They think that they can let/make the world outside their gates wither up and blow away without ever seeing a speck of dust land on their tablecloths, but they are wrong.

    At least when it all burns down, I’ll have the satisfaction of watching them swing while I’m on fire.


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