The newest installment of The Times' "The New Gender Divide" series, "Men Not Working, And Not Wanting Just Any Job," seems only too proud to expose more casualties of the feminist era. This time, we're bemoaning the troubles of men in their prime who exit the work force and then choose not to reenter it, preferring to sleep, read novels, re-mortgage their homes and mooch off their families rather than subject themselves to a job they consider beneath them. It's the "Boy Crisis" all grown up, further proof that men are careening towards tragedy as the creeping tentacles of feminism suck them under society's surface. But a closer look reveals that, with a nonsensical premise, inconclusive research and hollow conclusions, the article is yet another inflammatory pop shot at the women's movement, drawing flimsy conclusions supported by nonexistent evidence.
As proof that men are being squeezed from the work force in droves, journalists Louis Uchitelle and David Leonhardt offer exactly three case studies sprinkled with a few haphazard statistics and quotes from sociologists. The men profiled have no common links other than their age range (somewhere between 30 and 55), their current status as unemployed, and their general lack of concern about it. While the writers make the distinction that the majority of the men within this category are former blue collar workers or convicted felons, many of whom are not supporting families, nowhere do they examine, or even consider, whether women with identical education levels are refusing the same kinds of jobs scorned by their male counterparts. The underlying but unstated truth, of course, is that most women in this age range are supporting dependents, be it children, parents or spouses. With little equity or savings to fall back on, these growing numbers of working women have neither the time nor the option to refuse jobs that their unburdened male peers find "demeaning" or "humiliating."
Just as the research supporting the "Boy Crisis" was subsequently debunked, so can the "evidence" behind the new "Lazy Man Crisis" be punctured and deflated. The article sums up its thesis with the following numbers: "About 13 percent of American men [between 30 and 55] are not working, up from 5 percent in the late 1960's. The difference represents 4 million men who would be working today if the employment rate had remained where it was in the 1950's and 60's." The gaping question remains, what about the overall unemployment rate? Has it risen disproportionately for women? According to a June, 2006 report from The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the total unemployment rate for adult men declined to 4.0 percent, while jobless rates for adult women, African Americans and Hispanics held steady at 4.1 percent, 9.0 percent and 5.3 percent respectively. Hardly evidence of an employment crisis for the average white American male.
A quick scroll down and to the left on the first page reveals a chart depicting the five states with the highest rates of unemployed men. What the data leaves out is that two of these states, Kentucky and West Virginia, rank in the lower half of total unemployment in the U.S., with Kentucky's unemployment rate reaching 5.8% in 2006, the fifth highest in the country. New Mexico, Arizona and Louisiana are 19th, 22nd and 25th respectively. The data doesn't indicate, and the authors never bother to ask, whether the unemployment rates in these states are equal for both sexes. As for the mystical "4 million men" figure, listed as the total number of men floating outside unemployment ratings because they are both unemployed and not actively seeking a job, the authors cite no source for this statistic and give no indication of how they reached this calculation.
Glaringly one-sided data notwithstanding, the true faulty analysis occurs with the statement: "Even as more men are dropping out of the work force, more women are entering it ... Today, about 73 percent of women between 30 and 54 have a job, compared with 45 percent in the mid-1960's, according to an analysis of Census data by researchers at Queens College." The relevance of this statistic escapes me; last I checked, the number of women lined up to take over steel working and electrical engineering positions wasn't substantial. But then the writers officially abandon logic, leaping from the precipice of deductive reasoning with the following proclamation: "Women are also making inroads in fields where they were once excluded -- as lawyers and doctors, for example, and on Wall Street. Men still make significantly more money than women, but as women become more educated than men, even more men may end up out of the work force." Therein lies the cockeyed punch line, delivering a dump truck of fresh meat for the anti-feminism beast. It's a classic example of separate phenomena presented with mistakenly-implied causation - "X is happening and Y is happening, therefore X must cause Y." You'd bomb the LSAT with that kind of slipshod logic.
Following their revelation of the perils of women entering the work force, the authors support their conclusion with exactly zero evidence that the increase in female employment has any relation to the supposed millions of men (the majority of whom, the writers admit, have no more than a high school education) currently orbiting the fringes of productive society. Find me the rural compounds packed with former corporate lawyers and hedge fund managers forced to idle in government-subsidized uncertainty after women swooped in and seized their jobs - then we'll talk.
Rather than simply heaping blame on the demon feminism, perhaps our energies would be better spent examining the root of the problem: these men were either trained for jobs that have become obsolete, or branded with a criminal record that slashes their chances of obtaining gainful employment. Technological advances, not women, have taken the place of blue collar labor, while economic shifts since the tech boom have led to heightened job insecurity among white collar workers, both male and female. Attitudes about work are shifting, with the notion of permanent employment becoming a distant memory. Maybe instead of pointing fingers at imaginary gender-induced trends, we should pay greater attention to the social disenchantment and value shifts exhibited in statements from men like, "'I have come to realize that my free time is worth a lot to me.'" Most of all, we can acknowledge that this supposed "Man Crisis" is less a prophecy of impending doom for modern men and more a symptom of our discomfort with a man spending his days doing crosswords and watching soaps, rather than picking up a briefcase.
Follow Melissa Lafsky on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Lafsky