Saturday, January 26, 2013

Where Have All the Young Men Gone?

            A theme reiterated in many of my posts is that the only way for our economy to grow (in per capita terms) is for the percentage of people in the work force to grow or the productivity of people working to increase.  Both of these depend on incentives.  In that regard, an article by NicholasEberstadt published in the Wall Street Journal yesterday serves as a warning.  Mr. Eberstadt notes that:

As entitlement outlays have risen, there has been flight of men from the work force. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the proportion of adult men 20 and older working or seeking work dropped by 13 percentage points between 1948 and 2008.The American male flight from work is so acute that more than 7% of men in their late 30s (the prime working age-group) had totally checked out of the workforce, even before the recent recession. This workforce opt-out, incidentally, was more than twice that of contemporary Greece, the poster child for modern welfare-state dysfunction. The share of 30-somethings neither working nor looking for work appears to be higher in America than in practically any Western European economy.

            Young men checking out of the work force is a disaster on numerous fronts.  Most obviously, they are currently doing nothing to expand the national pie.  Equally tragic, they are robbing themselves of the productivity-enhancing benefits of work experience.  As a result, many are on their way to a lifetime of marginal employment and reliance on the government (by which is meant working citizens).  Relationships are likely to be affected as well.  How successful as a father, spouse and role model is a person who has checked out of the labor force likely to be?  Even worse, unemployable young men are prime candidates to turn to crime.  If they become criminals, not only is their potential production lost, but society has to expend resources protecting itself from them.

            In short, the personal and societal costs of young men checking out of the work force are immense.  Any social program suspected of creating incentives for such behavior needs to be reevaluated.

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