Thursday, September 22, 2016

Where have all the young men gone?

I went to listen to the president give his annual state-of-the-college address.  He, like most educators these days, talked about how student enrollment growth is critical for the fiscal future of the university.  He used phrases that one would hear from a factory owner: production, products, pipeline, and--of course--how more students mean more money.  There was no detailed presentation, however, on how well the products (graduates) are selling!

Despite repeating the flat--or even a negative growth--enrollment scenario, the president talked in plenty about the new building construction that has been completed, and another that will soon begin.  How is it that people with PhDs do not see the contradiction in massively increasing capacity even when knowing well that the demand won't be there?  Was there a KoolAid drink that I missed sipping?

Was I also the only one who thought it was yet another profound evidence when the president said that female students accounted for 65 percent of the incoming freshman class?  From 55-45, to 60-40, we have now reached 65-35.  Amazing.  Simply astounding.  What is this evidence for?  It adds more to the 'save the males" that I have been talking and writing about for almost two decades now.

Teenage boys and young men are simply not understanding that the world has changed rapidly in the past two decades.
For low-skilled men in their 20s, employment rates have fallen by about 10 percentage points over the last 15 years—from 82 percent in 2000 to only 72 percent in 2015. This decline is staggering. You might think it’s matched by a rise in school attendance for this age group. That is not the case.
The following may be the most shocking number I give you today: in 2015, 22 percent of lower-skilled men aged 21–30 had not worked at all during the prior 12 months. Think about that for a second.
Yes, think about all that data. Take more than a second.  Take ten minutes.  In fact, you should ponder those data for a long, long time.  One in five young men between the ages of 21 and 30 had not worked (for wages) over the 12 months.  One in five!

If you are a thinker--and you are; after all, you are here reading this--your immediate question is: "If they are not working, where do these young, low-skilled men live?"

You have an answer, right?  And you are correct about that:
In 2014, 70 percent of lower-skilled men in their 20s without a job lived with a parent or close relative.
Are you now beginning to have a little bit of an anxiety? Perhaps a tinge of panic?  If so, hold on to something, and get a brown-bag if you are beginning to hyperventilate.
If they are not working, how do these young men eat? We—the parents and relatives—feed them. When they are in our basements, they come up for food from time to time and raid our refrigerators. I have no information on whether or not they are showering.
Are these young, nonworking, lower-skilled men who are living in their parents’ basements married? You may be surprised to hear this: they are not. The age of marriage is increasing for this group. In summary, these younger, lower-skilled men are now less likely to work, less likely to marry, and more likely to live with parents or close relatives.
There is an interesting twist to all this.  You ready for that?
If we go to surveys that track subjective well-being—surveys that ask people to assess their overall level of happiness—lower-skilled young men in 2014 reported being much happier on average than did lower-skilled men in the early 2000s. This increase in happiness is despite their employment rate falling by 10 percentage points and the increased propensity to be living in their parents’ basement.
Those young men are happy.  The parents and close relatives hosting these young men might not be happy, but that is another story!

They are happy now. Yes. But, how about life after 30?
There is some evidence that these young, lower-skilled men who are happy in their 20s become much less happy in their 30s and 40s. They haven’t accumulated on-the-job skills because they spent their 20s idle. Many eventually get married and have kids. When this happens, living in their parents’ basements is no longer a viable option. Playing video games does not put food on their tables. It’s a bad combination: low labor demand plus the accumulated effects of low labor supply makes economic conditions for these aging workers pretty bleak.
These labor-market outcomes affect many facets of society. They affect the take-up rates of government transfer programs. They may explain voting patterns for certain candidates in recent periods. There is rising evidence that lower-skilled workers in their 30s and 40s are increasing their drug use. We have also seen increased suicide rates for lower-skilled workers in middle age. The effects of changing technology on the labor markets of lower-skilled workers will likely have repercussions within the US economy for years to come.
When I yell about the urgency to re-write the social contract, to find alternative outlets for testosterone, to figure out ways in which we can help people be productive if they don't want to, or are not suited for, college, well, all those are not random independent issues.  Nope.  These are all inter-related issues that require a great deal of our time and energy.  Our time and energy as in all of us.  And for that, in a democracy, we need leaders who understand these nuances, help shape the conversations, and work out strategies for collective action.  Ain't gonna happen in the democracy that we have and the one that we will wake up to on November 9th :(

Oh, btw, if you thought all the quotes were excerpted from some left-wing nutcase's rants, ahem, it is from as academically rigorous right-wing economics as you can possibly get--Erik Hurst is an economics professor at the University of Chicago.  So, when a U. of Chicago economics/business professor says all those, well, you ought to be scared shitless by now.

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