David Brooks–The Missing Fifth

…energy has always been…[America’s] saving feature.

So Americans should be especially alert to signs that the country is becoming less vital and industrious. One of those signs comes to us from the labor market. As my colleague David Leonhardt pointed out recently, in 1954, about 96 percent of American men between the ages of 25 and 54 worked. Today that number is around 80 percent. One-fifth of all men in their prime working ages are not getting up and going to work.

According to figures from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States has a smaller share of prime age men in the work force than any other G-7 nation. The number of Americans on the permanent disability rolls, meanwhile, has steadily increased. Ten years ago, 5 million Americans collected a federal disability benefit. Now 8.2 million do. That costs taxpayers $115 billion a year, or about $1,500 per household. Government actuaries predict that the trust fund that pays for these benefits will run out of money within seven years.

Read it all.


Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Economy, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Men, Psychology

14 comments on “David Brooks–The Missing Fifth

  1. Capt. Father Warren says:

    [b]Oh my heavens (wringing hands incessantly):[/b] one-fifth of able bodied young men won’t go out and work!

    [b]David Brooks solution:[/b] It will probably require a broad menu of policies attacking the problem all at once: expanding community colleges and online learning; changing the corporate tax code and labor market rules to stimulate investment; adopting German-style labor market practices like apprenticeship programs, wage subsidies and programs that extend benefits to the unemployed for six months as they start small businesses

    [b]David:[/b] here is a simpler plan [no govt intervention needed, sigh],,,,,,,no work = no eat!

  2. Polycarp says:

    Captain, I’ll go along with your simpler plan if you add this simple addendum for executives in the banking, insurance and financial services industries: defraud or even mislead people = go to prison for life.

  3. Capt. Father Warren says:

    So, you want me to buy into the moral equivalency idea that 20% of able bodied young men unwilling to work [which means they are living off someone else’s work, ie, they steal] forces us to accept life in prison for people who break no law [ie, “they have misled someone”]? Or, life in prison for someone who breaks a law [defrauds someone in a legally punishable way] for which less harsh penalites are already ascribed by the law?

    Sorry, no sale.

  4. IchabodKunkleberry says:

    I like #1’s idea of no work = no eat.
    A couple of anecdotes ..

    A relative of mine was blinded for life when still a young child. He
    worked for 40+ years for an insurance company. Another person
    of my acquaintance has been legally blind all his life, and has never
    worked a day in his life. He says he wants to be a radio DJ. Yeah,
    don’t we all ! He owns expensive audio equipment.

    Another person of my acquaintance is “emotionally unable” to
    cope with the demands of working. Instead, he sends his wife
    out to work and he collects SSDI payments, and indulges his
    woodworking passion by buying expensive hand tools and power
    tools. If something, even minor, goes wrong with his woodworking
    projects, he has a good cry over it.

    I am an engineer who works out of state because of necessity.
    My wife is in a multi-year recovery from a life-threatening
    auto-immune disease. I am still paying hospital bills for the
    percentage which med insurance didn’t cover. And there are
    hospital bills for myself for a kidney operation. I very much like
    audio equipment, and have from time to time done some
    woodworking. However, I can’t afford to buy new equipment
    for either hobby – all my stuff is from the late -80’s and early
    ’90’s. It really makes my blood boil when I have to endure these
    buffonish acquaintances prattle on about what wonderful
    equipment they own. I think they are laughing at men who work
    for a living. I call it the “chumpification” of the working man.
    Furthermore, we could solve a lot of our problems with illegal
    immigration if the federal and state governments had the
    backbone to force these American spongers and loafers into
    the workforce.

  5. Don C says:

    The non-working male is what blew my mind while watching Charles Murray talk about the State of white America:


  6. MarkP says:

    “20% of able bodied young men unwilling to work”

    Actually, Brooks specifically does not say they’re unwilling. He says, “Part of the problem has to do with structural changes in the economy. Sectors like government, health care and leisure have been growing, generating jobs for college grads. Sectors like manufacturing, agriculture and energy have been getting more productive, but they have not been generating more jobs.”

    Look at what has happened to the types of industry by which America was known in 1954. The 20% number represents both a partial vindication of the conservative position that when jobs disappear in one sector they get created elsewhere, and a partial vindication of the liberal position that a whole lot of people get sacrificed in the process (the poor end up unemployed and the rich get much richer).

  7. MarkP says:

    Here’s the data Brooks cites (males, 45-54, as a pct of the population):


    We’re right in the same neighborhood as the other G7 nations until the most recent year (2009), when we dropped by four percent in a single year! Does this speak to the way the US economy spread the pain (not) of the recession compared to other countries? In the same period, the UK number dropped .7%, Germany .5%, France .6%, Canada .4%.

  8. Capt. Father Warren says:

    MarkP; you are correct, David Brooks would never intimate that non-working able body men are “unwilling” to work; he will always claim that they are “victims”. Calling them “unwilling” were my words, and I stand by them.

    In most areas of the country, houses need to be painted, yards cut, cars washed, etc. If these young, able bodied men weren’t getting handouts from somewhere (govt, friends, girlfriends, family) their empty bellies might motivate them to go do something to earn their way.

    We all know that the claptrap policy changes David Brooks talks about a) won’t really happen, and b) won’t really change what these able bodied men will/will not do, because nothing in these programs is focused on altering their entitlement mentality. How do I know they have that entitlement mentality? Because they are sitting around not working, mooching off of someone else.

    You might ask, where does some of my wisdom on this come from? Part of it comes from raising a teenage son.

  9. Capt. Father Warren says:

    A teenage son, whom I might add, joined the Marine Corps, went to Iraq, rose to the rank of Captain, and now owns his own media business.

  10. MarkP says:

    And if they went out and washed cars and cut lawns they wouldn’t be “unemployed” for this kind of statistic? Four percent of American males between 45 and 54 became unemployed in a single year, during which the economy tanked and the overall unemployment rate skyrocketed. They had to feed themselves and their families, pay their mortgage, and try to compete for jobs against huge numbers of equally qualified applicants. It’s easy to assume they all became slackers even though they weren’t slackers the year before, I suppose. But, speaking only for myself, I’m willing to feel some sympathy for them.

  11. Don C says:

    MarkP, please watch the link I posted above. In contrast to David Brooks, Charles Murray used stats through 2008 (i.e. pre-recession numbers).

    There certainly are displaced workers because of changes in the economy (manufacturing, etc) but, Murray contends that there has been a cultural change in what used to be the working class.

  12. Capt. Father Warren says:

    MarkP, I don’t think anyone here is debating sympathy. I have been unemployed before, I have been fired from a job before, and it really sucks!

    I’ve cut lawns, sold newspapers, and worked on cars to generate money in early lean times in my life.

    I don’t wish unemployment or underemployment on anyone who wants to work to provide for him/her-self. But in my 30+ years in the workforce and as an owner of my own businesses, I’ve never had jobs come to me nor have I had customers beg me to sell them something.

    When David Brooks reports that 20% of able bodied men don’t get up and go to work, that’s a problem. Then he criticizes the rest of us, because collectively we as a country are not doing anything to motivate or reinvigorate these hapless young able bodied men.

    David Brooks proposed a solution, more government spending (what a surprise!).

    I proposed a much simpler solution to motivate these young able bodied men: no work = no eat.

    It’s not out of a lack of sympathy I propose that. It’s for their own good that I propose that. As my dad used to say “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”.

    Life is not an endless stream of handouts and pats on the head. Other people are not charged with the responsibility of making our dreams or aspirations come true. That is OUR job, each and every individual person. It’s never too early to learn that truth of life and these young able bodied men are already behind the eight-ball on that lessson, so it is time for class to begin: no work = no eat!

  13. Br. Michael says:

    Defenders of amnesty for illegals aliens argue that they are needed because they do jobs that American citizens don’t want to do. Well those who are not working can do those jobs for a start.

  14. Capt. Father Warren says:

    [i]Well those who are not working can do those jobs for a start[/i]

    Yep, and let’s abolish the minimum wage so that the worth of a job can be reflected in what will be paid for the job. This will match jobs to those of low skills that David Brooks so worries about without the creation of new government programs.

    And when we drive the unemployment rate down below 5% you will start to see wage pressure take over as employers begin to compete for workers.

    The free-market, capitalistic system is a beautiful thing to watch when it is allowed to work and real wealth creation takes place. And of course it is anathema to the Washington DC elitist crowd because it does not need them, in order to work.