THE BLOG

Blue Collar Men

12/11/2013 04:37 pm 16:37:07 | Updated Feb 09, 2014

Women are doing better in today's economy. They still face major headwinds but their unemployment rate is significantly lower than men's and they have been gaining ground. Blue-collar men on the other hand have lost ground. They made especially good money after World War II in heavy industries like steel, autos, metal working and coal where jobs are scarcer now. Their sense of status is linked to their ability to earn so they feel aggrieved and angry.

It is good that women have broken through barriers to employment and have more and better economic options than they used to have. It is terrible to make economic opportunities for blue collar men worse than they need to be as the economy changes. Failure to rebuild and modernize the nation's deteriorating infrastructure, which would create hundreds of thousands of jobs for blue collar men, is a crime against men under today's circumstances.

The construction sector in 2013 is the most male-friendly sector of the American economy. 97.4 percent of its employees are men. They are overwhelmingly the carpenters, cement masons, pipe layers, electricians, operating engineers, and construction laborers who should be modernizing and rebuilding the skeleton and connecting tissue of our economy. Construction employment in 2013 is 2 million below where it was in 2007. A big part and perhaps all of this loss could be reversed if the Congress would vote to build and repair roads, bridges, airports, the electric grid, seaports and other public facilities that are needed for future economic growth.

No one can claim that construction jobs are going overseas or that women are taking them. Men are being deprived of these largely blue collar jobs because Republicans in Congress have refused to support investment in infrastructure without attaching measures that are meant to kill it.

Republicans routinely sloganize President Obama's efforts to modernize our public works as "failed stimulus." They will not support a strong program unless it is paid for by draconian cuts in other areas. They also make their support for infrastructure modernization conditional on the evisceration of environmental safeguards and demand earmark-like concessions to energy projects like the Keystone Pipeline that runs across a sensitive aquifer.

Republicans also argue that infrastructure programs are slow to start and that their costs are increased by bureaucracy. Delays and long lead times, however, usually are due to the need for approvals at the local, state, and federal levels in the American federal system, and to our litigiousness. They are no excuse for the failure to support long-term construction programs that would create hundreds of thousands of jobs for the very blue collar males who are hurting the most in today's economy.

The Republican fixation on deficits is no excuse. Environmental rules are no excuse, and the desire of U.S. refiners to get more Canadian oil to export is no excuse. Simply put, Republicans ought to be called out for discriminating against blue collar men whose values they pretend to honor. Pretend is the right word because what most blue collar men want is a chance to earn a good living and the respect that comes with being able to earn. Hundreds of thousands of jobs building much-needed American infrastructure would provide both but Republicans for five years have sabotaged all efforts to go there.