The crisis of men without work

| Jonathan Liedl | July 27, 2017 | 2 Comments

There is a growing deficit of men in the workforce.

According to government data, more than 7 million American men between the ages of 25 and 54, the traditional prime of working life, are not even looking for a job. The U.S. now ranks second-to-last among developed nations in the rate of adult men in the workforce, thanks to a steady 13 percent decline over the past 50 years.

The potential impact of this trend has economists sounding the alarm, but Pope Francis has also drawn attention to its spiritual and social consequences. It robs people of hope, he says, and squanders “their great resources of energy, creativity and vision.”

Overcoming the crisis of young men without work is a cultural challenge, and it is part of a broader crisis of manhood. But public policy also has a role to play. By fostering opportunities for wider economic participation, we can help more men get back to work and live lives consistent with their God-given human dignity.

A ‘fundamental dimension’

Pope St. John Paul II puts it plainly in “Laborem Exercens”: “Work is a fundamental dimension of human existence on earth.” While work can take on any number of forms (including work done in the home and nursery), we are all called to it. Work is an act of co-creation with God that involves and develops our creativity, rationality and personality — those distinctively human gifts. Therefore, in the words of St. John Paul II, when man works he “achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes ‘more a human being.’”

We also work as an act of solidarity with the wider community. As St. John Paul II says, “Man must work out of regard for others, especially his own family, but also for the society he belongs to, the country of which he is a child, and the whole human family of which he is a member, since he is the heir to the work of generations and at the same time a sharer in building the future of those who will come after him in the succession of history.” Through work, we make a gift of self to others.

Men without work

In recent times, most men have worked outside the home. Therefore, opting out of the workforce has closed many men off to a primary opportunity for work, seriously crippling their capacity for both human development and self-gift.

One startling statistic illustrates clearly these debilitating effects. Nicholas Eberstadt, the author of “Men Without Work” (Templeton Press, 2016), estimates that non-working men have an extra 2,150 hours of free time per year. But instead of using this time to serve others in their family or community, the data shows that non-working men spend much of it sleeping, engaging in self-care or relaxing, which includes five-and-a-half hours of media consumption per day. Darker self-indulgent habits, such as pornography and drug use, also occur with greater frequency.

Deprived of the human formation that work provides, many men give in to their worst impulses instead of cultivating their most noble gifts. Cut off from the opportunity to serve others through work, many men turn inward instead of making a gift of self. Men need work to be thriving, selfless citizens.

Expanding economic participation

So how can public policy help address the “men without work” crisis?

For one, we can do a better job of connecting men with the work that is available. One puzzling aspect of the “men without work” crisis is that it is largely voluntary; many non-working men choose not to work, despite the availability of jobs, some that even pay quite well. In fact, the Star Tribune reported July 5 that Twin Cities builders are struggling to find skilled workers to fill any number of decent-paying positions.

One problem is that our education system has imposed a one-size-fits-all approach to workforce preparation. Four-year university degrees are over-prioritized and, as a result, many men are ill-equipped — or uninterested — in blue collar jobs that, until recently, appealed to their demographic. A greater emphasis on vocational training at an earlier age could help connect men with these enriching work opportunities.

We can also incentivize businesses to more directly reach out to non-working men with jobs and training opportunities, especially those reintegrating into society after serving a prison sentence. Special attention must also be given to stagnant wages; men raising a family must be able to access work that pays a living wage.

The “men without work” problem has deep cultural and spiritual roots. But through public policy that expands and encourages economic participation, we can help more men get back to work — and back to answering God’s call to co-creation.

Liedl is the communications manager of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Minnesota.

Ask senators for changes to health care bill

Bill must protect the poor, unborn and conscience rights

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has identified several problems with the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, the health care bill currently being considered by the U.S. Senate.

  • Proposed changes to Medicaid could potentially result in the loss of affordable access to health insurance for millions of people.
  • The legislation does not adequately protect the unborn, and Hyde Amendment protections need to be fully applied.
  • The bill also fails to include conscience protections for patients, insurers, purchasers, sponsors and providers.

Call your Minnesota senators and ask them to address these problems.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar: 651-727-5220
Sen. Al Franken: 651-221-1016

To find contact information for your state senator and state representative, call 651-296-8338 or visit

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Category: Faith in the Public Arena

  • Charles C.

    1.) One way to help solve the problem is to make working more attractive than not working. If people are supplied with all of their basic needs and a little spending money then what is the incentive to get a job? No, not everyone falls into that category, but many do. It’s common knowledge that if a person earns a little extra money they’re kicked off food stamps, Medicaid, or other assistance.

    Jobs are available, vocational training is available, but for some reason unaddressed in the article men don’t want to take those jobs. Consider the many incentives to not work and think about reducing them.

    2.) “Action Alert?” The call for action is frequently reasonable, this time it is not. Go ahead, call Klobuchar and Franken and tell them you want pro-life and conscience protections. Try it. They will be too polite to laugh at you, but they are committed to blocking any attempt to reduce support for abortions.

    And as for calling them to oppose Medicaid cuts? Seriously? They are completely dedicated to blocking any cut to any benefit program whatsoever. You’ll be preaching to the choir. The only spending they will ever consider cutting is to the military and national defense.

    Save your dime, you’ll need it to pay for the debt and benefit programs.

  • Charles C.

    Some numbers that add to the discussion:

    From 1948 through 1982 from 94% to 98% of the men in the 25-54 age group were in the labor market. From 1982 through 2002 the number was between 91% and 94%.

    Between 2011 and the present the percentage of men in the labor market has stayed between 88% and 89%. “Men without work” is hardly a new crisis. Why is it getting attention just now?

    And why are men not working? Well, the government’s Current Population Survey reports what men give for reasons. Their most current data is from 2014 when slightly over half of the men not working said it was because of illness or disability. If one adds “Going to school” as a reason for not being in the job market, one can account for 2/3 of the men not in the labor force.

    Do the suggestions in the article deal with the major part of the problem? Clearly not.