This Labor Day, there’s a crisis of working and non-working men. Here are 5 things we need to do

Labor Day is much more than the official end of summer and the marker of a three-day weekend. It was founded as — and remains — an opportunity to thank workers for their contributions to our country. It is also an opportunity to take stock of how they are doing. 

This week, my office will publish a report on one group of workers in particular: American men. The report, titled “The State of the Working (And Non-Working) Man,” details the problems men face in their vital role as providers. 

Unfortunately, the evidence is clear that working-aged men are not doing well at all. Across the board, they are suffering a generational decline in quality jobs and falling out of the labor force in staggering numbers. These problems have grim consequences, not just for men, but for women, children and our nation as a whole. 


Some might wonder how this could be, since national unemployment is near a record low. The problem is hidden out of sight, driven by a slow erosion of workers’ earning power and participation in the labor force. 

As the think tank American Compass has found, in 1985, the median American man could cover the basics of a middle-class lifestyle –– food, housing, health care, transportation and education –– for four people with 40 weeks of income.

In 2022, it would have taken this same man 62 weeks of income to do the same. But of course, there are no more weeks in the year today than there were 40 years ago. In other words, millions of men — predominantly blue-collar and less-educated men — can no longer provide a middle-class life for their families. 

As big a problem are the millions of men who have defected from the labor force entirely and spend their days in idleness — or worse. Last year, there were 7 million men missing from the labor force and 10 million total without work. As the scholar Nicholas Eberstadt points out, this means the share of American men without work today is as great as it was during the depths of the Great Depression. 

Depression levels of non-work for American men are leading to social breakdown all around us. A record 49,000 people took their lives in our country last year — and four-fifths of the dead were men.

Addictions to drugs, alcohol, pornography, gambling and video games are also on the rise. The individual stories are devastating, as are their impacts on families and local communities. Altogether, they spell serious trouble for America. 

I know from personal experience how important it is for boys to have good men as role models. My father worked late into the night as a banquet bartender so that he could provide a better life for his wife and kids — for me. His example taught me the value of hard work and the vital importance of doing right by family.

My football coaches taught me similar lessons, with every bear crawl and lap, about accountability and perseverance. They also taught me how to take a hit — a skill that has served me well throughout my adult life, especially in Washington, D.C. 

But fewer boys have involved fathers today. Many have no positive male role models of any kind. The headlines are full of the tragic consequences. Men and boys are depressed, lonely, angry and even violent — toward themselves and others. They lack direction. 

To make matters worse, it often seems the only thing policymakers and the media have for men is criticism, as though they are the source of all our problems, and those who are suffering have nothing to blame but themselves. 

What is the root cause of men’s present woes? There is no single culprit behind the carnage, but our report identifies five factors that are particularly worthy of attention: deindustrialization, open borders, corrosive welfare programs, changes in education and recent revolutions in American culture and technology. We must respond to these factors head-on. 

For policymakers, this means decoupling critical industries from Communist China and supporting the return of (heavily male) manufacturing jobs. It means clamping down on illegal and low-skilled immigration, which has depressed the wages of American men deemed unable to compete by Washington.

And it means adopting a work-first approach to safety net programs –– not to punish men who are down on their luck, but to spur them to better themselves and send a message that in America, able-bodied men are expected to work. 

Policymakers can also redirect funds from the broken “college-for-all” pipeline to technical training and apprenticeships, which will help boys and men because they are generally more equipped than girls and women to work with their hands.


Every year, the federal government spends about $175 billion on higher education, while only around $20 billion goes to employment and training programs. This is an unfair arrangement that puts boys –– and the working class generally –– at a dramatic disadvantage. It needs to change. 

Finally, policymakers should encourage marriage and involved parenting by increasing the child tax credit for working families, eliminating marriage penalties, and increasing the benefits available to single-earner married households. As the statistics bear out, the chance of finding happiness is far higher inside the family than outside it. 

Our nation is in desperate need of policy solutions. Solving the downward spiral of men’s well-being and workforce participation, however, will take more than government in the end. It will take a reorientation of our economy, culture and politics to serve the common good of men, women, and children alike. 

If this sounds like an ambitious task, that is because it is. But it is also the only way for our nation to escape decline. Remember: America has entered a great power conflict with an adversary –– China –– more powerful than any we have faced in our history. We will need good men with dignified work, stable families and strong communities to meet the tremendous challenges ahead. 

The problems described in our report took generations to manifest. To have any hope of success, our response must be multigenerational in turn. We’d better get started, so that we will have better news to celebrate on Labor Days to come. 


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