“Working Has Become More Expensive”

An interesting piece from the New York Times today puts forward the argument that for many unemployed or underemployed men in their prime (25–54), the jobs available to them aren’t worth taking.

There is also evidence that working has become more expensive. A recent analysis by the Brookings Institution found that prices since 1990 had climbed most quickly for labor-intensive services like child care, health care and education, increasing what might be described as the cost of working: getting a degree, staying healthy, hiring someone to watch the children. Meanwhile, the price of food, clothing, computers and other goods has climbed more slowly.

And technology has made unemployment less lonely. Tyler Cowen, an economist at George Mason University, argues that the Internet allows men to entertain themselves and find friends and sexual partners at a much lower cost than did previous generations.

They can socialize through the Internet. They can seek fulfillment through their hobbies. They can get by on disability checks and side gigs. If you don’t need to work to live, why work?

According to the article, fewer men are supporting families, so they don’t need to provide in the traditional, material sense. (“Only 28 percent of men without jobs — compared with 58 percent of women — said a child under 18 lived with them. … 37 percent of the decline in male employment since 1979 could be explained by this retreat from marriage and fatherhood.”)

That jives with another recent NYT article, “The Real Reason Richer People Marry,” which points out that “social class differences in marriage have been tied to the extent of income inequality among white Americans for at least 130 years.”

the current era is not the first time that the nation has experienced a large marriage gap; it is at least the second. Another instance occurred in the late 19th century. What these two eras have in common, according to the economists Claudia Goldin, Lawrence F. Katz and Robert A. Margo, is that economic inequality was high and rising during both of them.

People marry more often when there is an economic incentive to do so. Is it surprising that people also only want to work when there’s an economic incentive to?

There’s more to a job than a salary, of course. There are often benefits: health care, vacation days. There are co-workers you get to interact with in person. There’s also a sense of meaning, structure, even identity. But apparently plenty of men are weighing all that in one hand and saying it comes up short. What no one knows yet, though, is how this will affect the next generation.

a growing body of research finds that their children, in turn, are less likely to prosper.

“The long-run effects of this are very high,” said Lawrence F. Katz, a professor of economics at Harvard. “We could be losing the next generation of kids.”

Is it better for kids to see their parents (or specifically it seems, in this case, fathers) working at whatever jobs they can get? Even if it makes the parents/fathers unhappy? Basically: Should dads and jobs stay together for the kids, no matter what?

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