A Growing Number of Men Are Not Working, So What Are They Doing.
A growing number of men in their prime working years arc pursuing what might be called the Kramer lifestyle, after the enigmatic “Seinfeld” character: neither working nor attending school. In 1967, 2.2 percent of non institutionalized men age 25 to 54 spent the entire year without working for attending school. That figure climbed to 8 percent in 2002, the latest year available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics This trend is partly related to the rising disability More than half of male non workers reported themselves as sick or disabled. But the number of long-term jobless men who were able-bodied-a diverse group including young retirees, men who cannot find work, and family care providers–grew at a faster rate than the number who were disabled over the last 35 years.
The problem is much more severe for some groups than others. Nearly one in five men age 25 to 54 with less than a high school degree did not work even one week in 2002. The nonworking rate for college graduates was only 3.3 percent. In central cities, 10.8 percent of men spent the year without work, compared with 7.1 percent elsewhere. Joblessness is persistent over time, so it ends up being highly concentrated among a small cadre of men who frequently spend long stretches without work. Just 3 percent of men accounted for more than two-thirds of the total number of years that men spent not working in the period from 1987 to 1997, according to an anal is by Jay Stewart, an economist at the Bureau of Labor statistics. Long-term joblessness among mature men ha become a m ch more important phenomenon than unemployment. Many jobless men do not actively search for work, so they are not counted as unemployed. Yet they still represent a significant loss of productive human resources for the economy. The conventional wisdom is that joblessness has grown since the early 1980’s because the demand for less-skilled workers has dropped, causing their pay to fall. The decline in unions and erosion of the real value of the minimum wage have also caused their pay to fall. Rather than toil at low pay, more and more men have withdrawn from the job market.
How are these men spending their time and getting by?
A new working paper by Mr. Stewart of the Labor Bureau provides the most comprehensive answers to date. The study, “What Do Male Non workers Do draws on information from several national data sets on the time allocation, living arrangements and income sources of male non workers in their earning years In short, the average day of a male non worker looks very much like the average day of a worker-s-on his day off. Non workers devoted 8.4 hours a day to leisure and recreation and 3.3 hours to housework. On their days off, workers devoted almost the same amount of time–8 and 3.4 hours, respectively-to these activities. On workdays. the average full-time worker devoted only 3.5 hours to leisure and recreation and one hour to housework. Men worked an average of 8.6 hours on days when they performed some work for pay. Comparing workers and non workers over a full week, non workers spent about a quarter of their extra time in “home production,” which includes household chores, cleaning and repairs. The bulk of their extra time went into leisure and recreation, particularly watching television. socializing and playing sports and games. Non workers also slept 10 percent more (44 minutes) a night than workers. Both groups devoted relatively little time to child care, at least as a primary activity. By contrast, nonworking women spend half their extra time engaged in household work and child care. Supporting a Kramer lifestyle is not easy. especially if your neighbors are less magnanimous than Jerry Seinfeld. Nearly two-thirds of nonworking men age 25 to 54 received income from some source in 2002. Among those with unearned income, the average amount was $11.551. with the largest sums coming from Social Security and disability payments Not surprisingly. wives are also an important source of financial support for nonworking men. but only 42 percent of male non workers between age 25 and 54 are married, compared with 68 percent of their employed counterparts Twenty-nine percent of non workers live with their parents or other relatives, substantially higher than the 9 percent of workers in such a living arrangement The experiences of nonworking adult men are quite varied, and many have severe disabilities. Although these statistics paint a picture of nonworking men struggling to get by financially. many manage to live as if every day were Sunday. As one mall from Brooklyn who has not worked since 1998 told me this week. he thinks of the Off- Track Betting parlor in Midtown Manhattan as his “club,” and he sees many of the same men there day after day.