2006 August 02 Wednesday
Declining Fraction Of Adult Men Work

About 3 times as many men age 30 to 54 are not working and not looking for a job than are listed as unemployed.

About 13 percent of American men in this age group are not working, up from 5 percent in the late 1960ís. The difference represents 4 million men who would be working today if the employment rate had remained where it was in the 1950ís and 60ís.

Most of these missing men are, like Mr. Beggerow, former blue-collar workers with no more than a high school education. But their ranks are growing at all education and income levels. Refugees of failed Internet businesses have spent years out of work during their 30ís, while former managers in their late 40ís are trying to stretch severance packages and savings all the way to retirement.

What percentage of the officially non-working are earning a living with under-the-table work? Is that percentage rising or dropping? The rise in the number of illegals and of men who are not officially working has created a glut of those who are willing to do work off the books. So I would expect off-the-books jobs to be in short supply.

Government has served as an enabler of some of this trend toward not working. About a quarter of the men who aren't working and not looking for a job collect disability benefits from the US government's Social Security program.

But the fastest growing source of help is a patchwork system of government support, the main one being federal disability insurance, which is financed by Social Security payroll taxes. The disability stipends range up to $1,000 a month and, after the first two years, Medicare kicks in, giving access to health insurance that for many missing men no longer comes with the low-wage jobs available to them.

No federal entitlement program is growing as quickly, with more than 6.5 million men and women now receiving monthly disability payments, up from 3 million in 1990. About 25 percent of the missing men are collecting this insurance.

The ailments that qualify them are usually real, like back pain, heart trouble or mental illness. But in some cases, the illnesses are not so serious that they would prevent people from working if a well-paying job with benefits were an option.

The disability program, in turn, is an obstacle to working again. Taking a job holds the risk of demonstrating that one can earn a living and is thus no longer entitled to the monthly payments. But staying out of work has consequences. Skills deteriorate, along with the desire for a paying job and the habits that it requires.

The decline in availability of well paying blue collar jobs leaves a lot of men feeling that work brings in too little money to be worth it. But how are they surviving?

Non-working men have become less likely to be married.

The missing men are also more likely to live alone. Nearly 60 percent are divorced, separated, widowed or never married, up from 50 percent a decade earlier, the Census Bureau reports.

By contrast, only 30% of the working men are not married.

Non-working men sleep too much.

He also gets more sleep, regularly more than nine hours, a characteristic of men without work. As the months pass, they average almost nine-and-a-half hours a night, about 80 minutes more than working men, according to an analysis of time-use surveys by Harley Frazis and Jay Stewart, economists at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Those non-working men are not going to live as long as the ones who are working.

The best survival rates were found among those who slept 7 hours per night. The study showed that a group sleeping 8 hours were 12 percent more likely to die within the six-year period than those sleeping 7 hours, other factors being equal. Even those with as little as 5 hours sleep lived longer than participants with 8 hours or more per night.

Stay busy. It is good for your health.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 August 02 09:42 PM  Economics Demographic

Peter said at August 3, 2006 7:51 AM:

Health insurance creates a strong disincentive for many of these dubiously "disabled" people to find work. If I'm not mistaken, recipients of Social Security disability benefits also qualify for Medicaid. Finding a job that pays more than one gets in SSDI benefits will not make economic sense if the job does not provide health insurance, as if so often the case, as the extra pay will not make up for the loss of Medicaid eligibility.

D Flinchum said at August 3, 2006 2:05 PM:

"No federal entitlement program is growing as quickly, with more than 6.5 million men and women now receiving monthly disability payments, up from 3 million in 1990. About 25 percent of the missing men are collecting this insurance."

But at least most if not all of these men contributed to the SS fund at some point. Some of those who were older and skilled when they "dropped out" may have contributed quite a lot.

After an immigrant becomes a naturalized citizen, he can bring his parents to the US under family reunification. In spite of the fact that the sponsor is supposed to be financially responsible for the parent, many of these people end up on SSI and Medicaid without having contributed a dime to the system.

Norm Matloff of IT fame has written some on this problem. Some of these elders were interviewed and freely admitted that they would not have immigrated to the US unless they had this "benefit" because they didn't want to burden their children, some of whom were high income professionals. This indicates to me that the children were planning to dump the parents on SSI even while they were promising to assume financial responsibility for them when they arrived in the US. The parents looked upon SSI as a natural right - just something you were entitled to once you got to the rich US. Some lived with their children and stashed the SSI money in the bank as a "gift" for their children and grandchildren when they died. Others lived hundreds or thousands of miles away from the family that they had been "reunited" with, sometimes in ethnic neighborhoods where their native language was spoken, often in poverty but better off than if they had stayed in their country.

To their credit Congress tried to stop this in 1996 but the ACLU filed a lawsuit and it was reversed. If the amnesty passes, in a few years we will have a swarm of these new SSI clients about the time the majority of baby-boomers start hitting retirement age. Imagine the havoc that this can wreak when we are dealing with a large number of third-world parents with a variety of illnesses whose low skilled children are bringing them into the US. Even if we were to get tough and try to enforce the financial responsibility clause, these children would be unlikely to be of much help. Just another little surprise in Senate bill 2611.

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