Work without Men

Work without Men
“the problem is not a lack of jobs but a lack of skilled workers”

Now that the elections are over, there is much talk of trade and jobs. Predictably, the highest priorities are being given to negotiating new trade arrangements and tax policies that will bring back jobs to America.

It is true that businesses in America are overtaxed and overregulated. Anything that can be done to alleviate these burdens will be most welcome and stimulate the business climate. Such measures will indeed create jobs and open up opportunities, but they alone will not make America great.

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America faces a grave moral crisis that needs to be addressed. As Charles Murray and so many other scholars have stressed, America is coming apart. A vast underclass has developed that is the result of broken families, shattered communities, a nonexistent work ethic, substance abuse, and godless education. The mantra of “bringing jobs back” is not going to reverse the downward path of a nation without finding ways to rebuild a strong moral foundation.

A False Assumption

America has changed drastically over the years. Millions of skilled workers in the Rust Belt lost their jobs as manufacturing moved offshore, new technologies and other factors. However, much of the narrative now circulating assumes that bringing the factories back will just allow these same workers to return to manufacturing jobs, support their families, and everyone will live happily ever after.

Such an assumption fails to consider that Americans have changed over the decades. Many no longer have stable families. Likewise, technology has changed much of manufacturing. Today’s factory jobs take more sophisticated skills and work habits. If such considerations are not addressed, little improvement can be expected.

Dire Need for Manufacturing Workers in America

In fact, many believe there is a huge pool of skilled workers just waiting to get back to the assembly lines. The actual truth is that American manufacturers are frantically looking for skilled labor. They simply are not out there.

According to Labor Department statistics, the number of open manufacturing jobs has continually risen since 2009. The total now stands at the highest level in 15 years.

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According to an analysis by the Manufacturing Institute, nearly two million U.S. manufacturing jobs will remain vacant over the next decade if current trends continue. The crisis is aggravated by growing numbers of retiring baby boomers while the younger generations are not stepping up to the plate.

A Talent Gap

The reason for the lack of workers is a great talent gap between what is needed and what is available. One major problem facing manufacturers is that far too many young people go off to college without an idea of what they are going to do with their lives. They run after the glamor of going to the university and leave college with a degree they cannot use and debt they cannot repay. The result is a dearth of young people to take manufacturing jobs despite attractive wages and waiting positions.

Thus, the problem is not a lack of jobs but a lack of skilled workers. In fact, one result labor study found that the average U.S. manufacturer is losing as much as 11 percent of its annual earnings due to a talent shortage. Another survey concluded that almost half of executives would consider reshoring manufacturing operations back to U.S. yet are also concerned about the need for skilled workers.

Without getting young Americans back into manufacturing, bringing jobs back will only make this problem worse.

Training Unemployed Workers

Many people point to the huge pool of unemployed and underemployed workers and claim that if given training and opportunities, they will take the new jobs to support their families and pursue the American Dream.

Once again, the perception does not correspond fully to the reality. It assumes too much. There are indeed many Americans who are out of the workforce to the point that they are not even looking for employment. Is it just a matter of coaxing them back?

This is not the conclusion of Nicholas Eberstadt in his masterful study, Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis. The book documents a disturbing fact that “an invisible army” of ten million idle American men of prime working age, some ten percent of the male workforce, now “spend absolutely no time at a job.” Most don’t want to change their nonemployed status.

A Grave Crisis

Eberstadt correctly asserts that this great pool of idle Americans represents not only a social crisis but above all a grave moral crisis. While a small sector of these nonworking men are in training or pursuing education, the majority represent a radical change of mentality away from the work ethic that made America great. A culture once marked by industriousness and hard work is being replaced with a system that “encourages sloth, idleness, and vices.”

In other words, many of these men do not want to play the role of breadwinners. They do not want opportunities or training. They want to remain the way they are. Many are unmarried, uneducated and have a criminal background. Surprisingly, most of these nonworkers live reasonably comfortable lives thanks to the support of wives, girlfriends, aging parents, or government welfare programs.

Eberstadt shows how many of these men spend their time engaging in such activities as gambling, substance abuse, socializing, or an average five-hours-a-day movie-watching habit. They do not get involved in most civic or community activities. Filling their days with gadgets and idle pastimes, America is seeing what Eberstadt labels the “infantilization” of these men.

When the jobs come back, don’t expect to see these men in line for jobs or job training, no matter how enticing the offers may be.

Shifting Focus

And that is why the focus must be expanded from just the jobs and infrastructure projects that are now all the rage. Unless the new administration concentrates on invigorating the moral fiber of the country, strengthening marriage and the family and limiting the power of the state, America will not recover from its present woes.

Indeed, when the jobs come back, there is the risk that no one will show up.

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