What's With Men Who Aren't Working?

There was a great photo on the front page of the New York Times a few weeks ago. A fat man, dressed in what we used to call "work clothes" (a denim shirt and jeans), is lounging on his front porch, bare feet up on an ottoman, dog in lap, smiling happily as his smiling wife looks down on him.

What is he so happy about?

"I have come to realize that my free time is worth a lot to me," he says beatifically.

What he means by that is: "I ain't got no job, and I'll be damned if I'm gonna go out and look for one."

This man, Alan Beggerow, was laid off as a steelworker when he was 48. He taught math for a while at a community college, but he couldn't find a permanent job that wasn't either "demeaning" or "underpaid," as he put it. So now, at 53, he spends his time playing the piano, reading histories and biographies, and writing unpublished novels.

To pay the bills, the NYT article noted, he has taken out a $30,000 second mortgage, is drawing down family savings, and is relying on his wife's salary. And Alan isn't alone. Millions of American men between 30 and 55, the article noted, have "dropped out of regular work" and are turning down jobs that they think are "beneath them."

In the 1960s, only 5 percent of men in this age bracket were not working. Today, the number is 13 percent. Most of these missing men, the article says, are former blue-collar workers with no more than a high school education. "But their ranks are growing at all education and income levels."

What a peculiar notion Mr. Beggerow has - that it's undignified to work at a low-paid job (or maybe two) to take care of his family, but it's perfectly dignified to sit on his porch and deplete the family's savings while his wife works to try to make ends meet.

So working hard is no longer cool. But letting your wife work - after she's brought up the kids and taken care of the house for 25 years - that's perfectly acceptable.

Welcome to America's new 21st century economy.

posted by M. Masterson @ 8:57 AM,

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