Sunday, May 15, 2011

Not Working

David Brooks is worried that so many men are not working these days:
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.
And why do you suppose that might be? Brooks, like most conservatives, think this has something to do with laziness, and he follows David Leonhardt in leaping straight from the rising number of men not working to the rising number of people collecting disability insurance:
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.
Which is an interesting problem, I agree, but it is only weakly related to the number of men not working. A quick check of the statistics posted by the census and the Social Security Administration would have told Brooks that of the 12 million men not working, less than 2 million are collecting disability payments. What about the other 10 million?

Partly this is the flip side of all the women who are working; the percentage of American adults employed outside the home has risen substantially since 1950. Some families get by on one income now as they did then, only now it is sometimes the woman's.

But if you ask me, the reason so many men are not working is that we do all we can to make most people's work a miserable experience. I think the way to get more men into the workforce is to treat workers like adults -- solicit their input, take their ideas seriously, etc. -- give them better working conditions, pay them more than 1% of the CEO's pay, and give them job security so they feel like they are part of the companies they work for. As long as we treat working men like stray dogs, they are going to act like them.

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