The discouraging March employment report, with a job increase of only 88,000, raises questions well beyond the dreary state of today’s labor market. Prolonged high unemployment may be silently shredding the social fabric in ways that last for decades. Even before the Great Recession, men with a high school diploma or less faced lower wages and a harder time finding work. This made them less attractive as husbands, contributing to the growth of single-parent families. Stubbornly high unemployment almost certainly aggravates these destructive trends.
It’s hard to overstate the breakdown of marriage and the rise of single-parent families. Consider out-of-wedlock births. In 1980, about 18 percent of births were to unmarried women; by 2009, the proportion was 41 percent. Among whites, the increase was from 11 percent to 36 percent; among African Americans, from 56 percent to 72 percent; among Hispanics, from 37 percent (1990) to 53 percent. Or look at the share of children living with two parents. Since 1970, that’s dropped from 82 percent to 63 percent. Among whites, the decline is from 87 percent to 73 percent; among African Americans, from 57 percent to 31 percent; among Hispanics, from 78 percent to 57 percent.
Samuelson suggests that a large part of the reason is the declining economic fortunes of men:
Walter Russell Mead, commenting on Samuelson's article, notes:
From 1979 to 2010, inflation-adjusted hourly wages for men age 25 to 39 with only a high school diploma fell 20 percent, while the wages of similar women rose 1 percent. Among those with some college (but no bachelor’s degree), women’s wages were up 8 percent; men’s were down 8 percent. As important, fewer men and more women proportionally have jobs. From 1979 to 2007 — prior to the recession — the share of male high school graduates with jobs fell 9 percentage points; job-holding by similar women rose 9 percentage points. For those with some college, men were down 6 percentage points, women up by 12 percentage points.
Women have adjusted better than men to an economy with more office work and less factory, construction and transportation activity. Autor and Wasserman fear these changes are now feeding on themselves. On average, children in single-parent homes do worse — have lower grades, do more drugs, have higher arrest rates — than similar children raised by two parents, who can devote more money and time to their offspring. Boys seem especially at risk because they often lack “a positive or stable same-sex role model,” say Autor and Wasserman. So boys will do less well in school and less well (later) in the labor market. They will then be less appealing as husbands.
“Over the last half-century,” writes Murray, “marriage has become the fault line dividing American classes.” Autor and Wasserman reach the same conclusion: Their data show a tight correlation between the falling earnings of poorly educated men and declining marriage rates.
Today’s dismal labor market may now further aggravate family meltdown. It’s harder for men to get jobs or higher wages.
If the gender roles were reversed here and a generation of women has suffered huge setbacks, we would have a great hue and cry with blue-ribbon panels, academic roundtables, and a lot of national soul-searching. But men’s problems don’t seem to interest anyone much, not even men.I would suggest that there are several reasons for the lack of interest, from it not being politically correct to worry about men, to the fact that the media, political, and intellectual elites are so wrapped up in their bubble that they don't care about a problem that, up until recently, was a poor, minority problem. And Black leaders long ago forsook their fellow African-Americans.