Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

I Am David Brooks' Lazy, Unemployable "Missing Man"

Hey, David Brooks wrote a column about me! I am one of the 20% of American men of "prime" working age who does not have a job. And apparently we are destroying America by not "getting up and going to work." Oh yes: "In 1954, about 96 percent of American men between the ages of 25 and 54 worked. Today that number is around 80 percent. One-fifth of all men in their prime working ages are not getting up and going to work."

The real menace here is that we are apparently draining Social Security, which is headed for a complete state of brokeness in the not very distant future. (I personally am not. Yet.) Because you know how people love to be going to disability hearings all the time to get that sweet, sweet thousand bucks a month. But also… hey, he has pretty much imagined this crisis of malehood and American vitality.

Sure, for starters, the number of heterosexual, married "stay at home dads" (ugh, I know, horrible phrase) has tripled in the last 15 years?. They alone are raising about 1/4 of a million children. That's not too many of the "missing men" though, though it's a chunk.

But is it men who are draining Social Security? Hmm.. "between 1988 and 2008, the fraction of middle-aged men and women ages forty to fifty-nine receiving SSDI benefits rose by 45 percent among males (from 3.9 to 5.6 percent) and 159 percent among females (1.9 to 5.0 percent)." So… it's really not the men on disability that are the "problem," it's those lazy, "missing" disabled women too. I bet they are eating lobster with their Social Security checks!

And in fact… in 2006, the Times estimated that just "about 25 percent of the missing men"—about 4 million men then not in the workforce— "are collecting this insurance."

So really, of the "missing fifth" of working age men that Brooks is talking about, some number that is definitely much fewer than half of them are collecting disability. And those are quite possibly… what's the phrase… right! "Disabled."

(The Social Security Administration itself says this: "Studies show that a 20-year-old worker has a 3 in 10 chance of becoming disabled before reaching retirement age." You do the math on that.)

What the academics and reporters do most often in looking at the rise of disability claims is contrast them with the official employment numbers, to see if they track. But what they don't count for comparison is the underemployment numbers, the people who've never gotten on or have rolled off the unemployment insurance rolls. (Hi, here I am!) So then there's no correlating between the unemployed and the left-behind. We're just, you know, "missing." (And apparently not "getting up" in the morning.)

So what we don't get a good picture of is: who are these "missing" men? Well, for one, we know that "nearly 60 percent are divorced, separated, widowed or never married." (A rather wide swath. Also, hi!)

Ooh, who else? "Roughly two million men in this group [of non-working men] have prison records." (People in prison, naturally, aren't counted among the unemployed.) So, hmm, maybe one thing we could do to deal with the "missing fifth" is undo the country's perverse insistence on making felons of drug users and also black men in general?

Who else are they? For one: "Seventy-five percent of those on disability have a high school diploma or less education." (Oh, hello.)

And some of them just don't need to work: "About 8 percent of non-working men between 30 and 54 lived in households that had more than $100,000 of income in 2004." So that's, what… nearly 400,000 or so of the "missing fifth"? I dunno, I don't have a job, I'm not good at math!

In light of all that, here's Brooks' big thesis:

There are probably more idle men now than at any time since the Great Depression, and this time the problem is mostly structural, not cyclical. These men will find it hard to attract spouses. Many will pick up habits that have a corrosive cultural influence on those around them. The country will not benefit from their potential abilities.

By "not cyclical," he means that it's not because of the ongoing cycle of recessions. But I don't think he can assert that. The country doesn't want their potential abilities, or did I misunderstand that moment recently when millions of workers were cast to the wayside? And, apparently, according to Brooks, the sacred institution of marriage also can't save them… which… I don't know, I guess, then they get bad habits, something something, corrosive…??? THIS IS A MESS.

But I think he basically just called us all drugged out waste-cases who'll never get married. Actually, yes he did: regarding the lack of college education among many of these men, he writes: "More American men lack the emotional and professional skills they would need to contribute." Um, I may be "missing," but I can still read the Times and that's kind of mean?

And yes, that is so weird, that the word "recession" does not show up here. And that the word "unemployment" shows up one time.

What's most annoying is that he's somewhat right about the solutions to putting people back to work, if indeed that is the goal. (Whose goal? It's not the goal of big business; it may not even be the goal of the potential worker. These articles about people "returning to work" always make an example of the man who says "Heck no, I'm not going to make $8 an hour shoveling chicken and support my family, why should I bother?" That not permanently entering the garbage labor force is almost always the right choice for the future seems unfathomable to reporters and academics and op-ed columnists.) Anyway, yes! "Apprenticeship programs, wage subsidies and programs that extend benefits to the unemployed for six months as they start small businesses" are a great idea! Those are things that will also never, ever happen in America.

41 Comments / Post A Comment

HiredGoons (#603)

David Brooks has one technical skill I do not, which is the ability to pat one's own back.

riotnrrd (#840)

@HiredGoons That's the one reach-around you're no good at. Hi-yo!

HiredGoons (#603)


brent_cox (#40)

All David Brooks columns are fundamentally David-Brooks-fanfic.

keisertroll (#1,117)

@brent_cox Most of Andrew Sullivan's columns are fundamentally David Brooks-slashfic.

KarenUhOh (#19)

The only reason David Brooks writes for the Times is because he can't handle the drive-up window at Taco Bell.

oxla (#12,069)

David Brooks does not "write" columns. He summons the words forth from the inchoate nether all around us and through complex magics (which one could never hope to understand by your precious empirical knowledge and analysis) transforms these eldritch energies into Runes of Knowledge (dutifully transcribed by the Times's deaf-dumb seer, Oryx the Scribe) and published to aid in our understanding of a greater truth, beyond such feeble concepts of "accuracy" or "lazy, pseudo-intellectual diarrhea ."

HiredGoons (#603)

@oxla: the rest of the typing pool thinks Oryx the Scribe is a stuck up bitch btw.

laurel (#4,035)

@oxla Heh: "nether".

gumplr (#66)

I wonder what Gutty is watching.

David Brooks may say that I'm not getting up and going to work, but it's really that work isn't getting up and going to me.

keisertroll (#1,117)

Work's been to paradise, and yet it's never been to me.

David Brooks is the hungry man's social scientist

MichelleDean (#7,041)

It's been my experience that losers of all genders have no trouble "finding spouses."

Br. Seamus (#217)

It's fun for me to imagine, and I'd like to see more people come to fervently believe, that David Brooks is actually David H. Brooks.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Bobos in Paradise Lost

@Abe Sauer : Hobos in Paradise?

Harold Harldrotta (#11,523)

whats the point in working at corporations, long hours, shitty pay, expensive insurance, all to make some CEO and Exec's who play musical chairs millions of dollars.

its nearly impossible to start a small business

as an unemployed 33 year old I'm clearly not a catch for any woman

I should be working in my prime and have a great career
and yet corporate culture being what it is, we're lucky anything gets done at all

offices filled with free loaders, mouth breathers, fat people,
unhealthy both psychologically and physically

all so we can convince a bank to buy us a house built out of toothpicks in a decaying neighborhood
while driving a depreciating expensive car back and forth to the job you hate

no thanks

btw how are those student loans from "for profit" colleges working out for the rest of you ?

indebted indentured societal servants for the top one percenters

HiredGoons (#603)

But its fine Choire because you have all that disposable Gay Wealth, right?

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

@HiredGoons Fortunately the U.S. leads the rest of the world in instituting imaginary social safety nets. I'm looking forward to a rich and rewarding life as a Cadillac-driving welfare queen.

Pop Socket (#187)

So the way to get guys to find jobs is to take away Medicare? That is an odd incentive.

rrot (#7,827)


Brooks' entire point in this instance of his quite typically idiotic, but influential and dangerous column, is that it's awful to stand in the way of destroying Medicare.

roboloki (#1,724)

soylentunemployment green?

roboloki (#1,724)

that's okay. i didn't want to edit that and insert a space. really. i didn't.

Brooks: "Idle men … will pick up habits that have a corrosive cultural influence on those around them."

As opposed to the gainfully employed bankers, whose habits continue to have a corrosive financial influence on people they aren't even around.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

*spritzes you with a bottle of culture acid*

Related Stories just recommended A Note On Stupid Bitches, and honestly I'm still dying over here.

gfrblxt (#11,113)

Is anyone else amused by the "American Express Gold Card" ad right underneath this essay?

Matt Rudolph (#5,612)

what a douche. the very first point I stopped reading afterwards. Lack of education is the fault of the man? Not that it is nearly impossible to get a college education unless you have financing from parents?

scrooge (#2,697)

Maybe Choire could take David Brooks's job?

Listen, if ya'll will stay home and do the laundry and stuff, maybe work part-time to pay some bills, we can work something out.

propertius (#361)
scrooge (#2,697)

@propertius Interesting, yes, but Utopian, I'm afraid.

abbyjean (#508)

YAY this is a much better takedown than my desired response of punching david brooks in the face.

jtp2106 (#12,175)

Maybe the folks of David Brooks' generation should look in the mirror when they're searching for somebody to blame for this problem. They created the situation my generation (I'm 25) is dealing with right now by living beyond their means for the past 40 years. I graduated from a good school while the recession was in full swing and the job market was abysmal. I took a job I hated and I was laid off on the worst day of the recession. I lived from week to week on unemployment for 11 months, applying to every job while all my friends were moving back into their parents houses. I was lucky that I found a job before my 99 weeks were up, but I know people that weren't so fortunate. Studies have shown that people who are unemployed out of college make dramatically less over the course of their working lives than people who started work straight out of school. So now I have that to look forward to along with a lot of other people my age. Sorry I couldn't contribute to your generation's safety net, David Brooks. We've been screwed over enough already by the older folks.

Max Clarke (#3,635)

…those lazy, "missing" disabled women too. I bet they are eating lobster with their Social Security checks!

At Red Lobster, even!

bytehead (#4,763)

Wow! I'm one in five! Stay at home dad, in fact, I quit my job when I got married, just to raise my four step-children. Sadly, I don't think I've put in enough quarters yet for SSI, let alone SSDI. Working seven years basically under the table at one point (don't ask) and then another 11 years as a civil servant is the issue. Same with my wife who has been under the railroad retirement system for most of her life until they decided to lay her off.

And I have news for Mr. Brooks, I'm already married, the economic situation really, truly sucks, but I do expect to get back on the beast in the future.

joeclark (#651)

I strongly approve of pop economics like this, Mr. SICHA!

In a previous era we’d call this fisking.

caw_caw (#5,641)

I have to congratulate you on your ability to pick David Brooks' worst column. He has so many…the closest I've come is a top 5.

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