August 07, 2006


Caption: These guys stopped looking for work long ago.

An interesting article in last week's
New York Times
reported that about 13 percent of men between the ages of 30 and 55 are not working, up from 5 percent in the 1960s. "The difference represents 4 million men who would be working today if the employment rate had remained what it was in the 1950's and 60's."

In El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia, the numbers are even higher, as reporter Scott Finn wrote in yesterday's Sunday Gazette-Mail.

One in four men in the Mountain State between the ages of 30 and 54 said he did not have a job, according to 2004 Census data--twice the national average.

This information flies in the face of conventional wisdom and an official state employment rate of about 5 percent.

These men don't show up in unemployment statistics because they have been without a job for too long to receive benefits. Some stopped tying to find a job. Others collect disability checks. Many survive on under-the-table income from odd jobs.

These numbers reflect structural changes in the state, national and global economy as corporations have downsized and out-sourced jobs to other countries. West Virginia has been hit especially hard by mechanization of mining and the decimation of manufacturing in the wake of NAFTA and corporate-driven globalization.

As one would expect, many men of this age now out of the labor market were from blue collar backgrounds, but their ranks also include many highly educated men from management or professional careers. As the Times reports, "Refugees of failed Internet businesses have spent years out of work during their 30's, while former managers in their late 40's are trying to stretch severance packages and savings all the way to retirement."

Behind the numbers are personal stories. In some cases, men who enjoyed a living wage, benefits, and a certain amount of prestige in their previous careers are reluctant to take low wage, low skilled, low trust jobs. In other cases, the shock and pain from losing a job is a blow to personal identity that translates into depression, illness, isolation, family problems, and early death.

As WV AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Larry Matheney put it in the Gazette-Mail, "I've had men in their 50s stand before me and cry because they've lost their jobs. That sense of loss is second only to the death of a loved one."

Any way you look at it, this is a huge waste of human potential.

The thing to remember is that corporate driven globalization (and the right wing anti-worker political agenda that is its evil twin) isn't a picnic for most women and children either or for that matter for very many people outside of the international investor class.

One of the many challenges for our times is to try to build an economy that works for everyone.


1 comment:

Anne Johnson said...

My husband thought his plant would close this year. He's 50 and we've got 2 kids. We dodged the bullet this time I think, but I'll be amazed if he gets to 65 in this job. And he doesn't know how to do anything else, and the whole industry is downsizing anyway.

Do you hear a single politician saying a word about this? Me neither.