By David Michael Newstead.
Nicholas Eberstadt’s recent book, Men Without Work, is a wealth of information that highlights how the percentage of working age men participating in the U.S. workforce has been steadily decreasing for decades. Eberstadt explores the scope of this phenomenon by the numbers and includes a range of charts and graphs without being hyperbolic or overtly political. Even so, his findings if accurate have widespread political, social, and economic implications that are already being felt.
How significant is this? On page 4, Eberstadt writes:
How big is the “men without work” problem today? Consider a single fact: in 2015, the work rate (or employment-to-population ratio) for American males ages twenty-five-to-fifty-four was slightly lower than it had been in 1940, which was at the tail end of the Great Depression.
He goes on to say:
Here, then, is the underlying contraction of economic life in America’s second Gilded Age: A period of what might at best be described as indifferent economic growth has somehow produced markedly more wealth for its wealth-holders and markedly less work for its workers.
More than anything, the book is a detailed examination about what factors are contributing to this decrease and, in a very limited sense, what could be done to address it. But there is no one single answer offered up nor can this decrease (according to the data) be attributed to increased immigration, women’s entry into the workforce, men going to school full-time, men retiring, or comparisons across industrialized countries. Instead, it seems to be a convergence of social and economic factors that may be impacting male-dominated industries first, but not exclusively. So, increased automation is one issue. Levels of educational attainment are another. But it gets more complicated when the role of race and felony convictions are added to the discussion. And Eberstadt spends considerable time on this subject.
If America’s felon population continued to grow at the same pace as the 2004-10 period, we would expect that total to surpass 23 million persons by the end of 2016 at the latest. America’s population of noninstitutionalized adults with a felony conviction somewhere in their past will almost certainly exceed 20 million by the end of 2016 – and the current total for men within this group could now exceed 17 million, or 13 percent of all male adults in America.
At the end of the day, I believe that appreciating that our growing new class of men without work looks to be disproportionately composed of people with a tangled history of criminal justice system encounters will put us on a better path to dealing with their work problems, which also happens to be ours.
By David Michael Newstead.
Before his presidency, John F. Kennedy wrote A Nation of Immigrants. The book discusses the different origins, motivations, and numerous social contributions of immigrants arriving at different points in U.S. history. It’s a short book, but a meaningful one since Kennedy himself was a descendant of Irish immigrants. What’s especially noteworthy though is that later in the book JFK advocated for more open immigration policies and an end to the discriminatory national quota system which had been put into place in 1924 to limit immigration in general and non-white immigration specifically. And while Kennedy would not live to see his proposals enacted, America today is much more diverse because of them.
I bring this up for several reasons. First, to underline that contributions to American society by recent immigrants have only continued since Kennedy’s time. Second, this increase in diversity going forward is an asset, not a curse. And third, the racial makeup of the United States was kept homogeneous for so long through means which were blatantly racist at the time and would be completely unacceptable today. This includes things like the Chinese Exclusion Act and as soon as such policies were abandoned, America became more multicultural.
The other reason I mention A Nation of Immigrants is that I have my father’s copy of it sitting on my bookshelf. He was an immigrant to the United States. And while there’s nothing harrowing about his story compared to Syrians and others, it makes it pretty hard not to sympathize with a group that practically everyone’s relatives belonged to once upon a time.
By David Michael Newstead.
Today marks the 30th Anniversary of the death of Abel Meeropol. Meeropol passed away at age 83 in a retirement home in Massachusetts, having spent the last years of his life struggling with Alzheimer’s. Professionally, the songwriter is best remembered for his works Strange Fruit and The House I Live In, which have been performed by artists like Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Sam Cooke, Paul Robeson, and others. In his personal life, Abel and his wife Anne were famous for adopting the orphaned sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg after the couple was executed in 1953. Today, Abel’s legacy is rooted in having guided his adopted sons through the worst days of McCarthyism and in the enduring significance of the song Strange Fruit as America continues to grapple with violence and racism in our society. Abel Meeropol was born in New York City in 1903, the son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. He is survived by his adopted sons, Robert and Michael Meeropol, four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Many Americans are familiar with the astronaut heroes of the 20th century space race — names like Gus Grissom and Neil Armstrong. But who did the calculations that would successfully land these men on the moon?
Several of the NASA researchers who made space flight possible were women. Among them were black women who played critical roles in the aeronautics industry even as Jim Crow was alive and well.
“When the first five black women took their seat in the office in 1943, it was in a segregated office with a ‘colored girls’ bathroom and a table for the ‘colored’ computers,” author Margot Lee Shetterly tells NPR’s Michel Martin.
Shetterly, a Hampton, Va., native and daughter of a former Langley scientist, tells the story of these women in the new book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. The book has already been adapted for the big screen; the film starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae premieres in January.