October 19, 2010

The less-visible effects of workplace demographic changes

Filed under: Economics, History, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:12

Monty points out that we’ve passed a significant equilibrium point in employment statistics:

Women are vital to the American workforce, and have been since at least the 1940’s, but this recession may have shifted the balance of economic power decisively to women. Men have been the traditional household “breadwinners”, with the wife’s income being seen as augmenting the male’s income, but this recession has hit men disproportionately harder than women. Women are far more likely to work in industries (like services and healthcare) that are more insulated from the downturn, whereas men are far more likely to work in the hard-hit trades and manufacturing sectors. Women also have many more protections — both regulatory and social/cultural — than men do. There are many deep ramifications to this change — the impact of long-term male unemployment on the family; the loss of status, power and prestige that goes with being unemployed; the male self-image and value to society. (Studies of unemployed men during the Great Depression are not happy reading — many of the chronically unemployed males left their families rather than assume a lower status in the family, and were also far more likely to be dictatorial and violent towards their wives and children.)

Social support agencies are not well-equipped to deal with this change, and it will continue to disrupt “normal” life for years to come, unless the economy is allowed to right itself — yet another excellent reason to tell the politicians to stop meddling.

Another valuable observation from the same post:

This is a point I’ve made many times: the economic demographic most impacted by immigrant labor are teens. Low-end “starter” jobs tend to be low-skill, low-paying, part-time jobs, and adult immigrants are often favored over teens for these jobs by employers (they often have families to support, are considered more reliable, etc.). This means that the teen labor-participation percentage has fallen from 50% in 1970 to 25% today. (And even 25% is probably too high.) When faced with this lack of job opportunities, teens often opt to go back to school — but this in turn saddles them with a lot of debt for (in many cases) not much gain. For many teens, it’s simply a way of deferring adulthood, not a way to gain additional skills or knowledge. (I had my first paying job at 14; my first “real” W2 job at 16. I worked nearly full-time all the way through college, and worked full-time during the summers. I wonder how rare this is now?) Another interesting aspect to the immigrant/teen issue: the language barrier. If you’re a teen who doesn’t speak Spanish, just try and get a landscaping or construction job in the Southwest. The same goes for many fast-food crews and oil-change/tire-repair places. Still, we’re not the only ones with immigrant troubles.

Another side to the increasing longevity of western culture is the delayed start to “adult” life: now that a college diploma or university degree has about the same relevance that a high school diploma did a generation ago, young folks are entering the workforce several years later than earlier generations. This delays family formation, children, home-buying, and all the other aspects of independent-from-the-parents life.

No wonder so many of the “rules” no longer seem to apply with so many things changing.

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