The oft-discussed possibility of a double-dip recession still looms darkly on the near horizon. Sure, the Stock Market is more often up than down, but those numbers represent only about 40% of the economy. Unfortunately, some 1% of the people in the economy control and profit from the 40% takings from that particular casino.
For the rest of the economy, and the people who built it, the shocks of ‘The Great Recession’ are still coming. And the working middle class are feeling it the worst.
The history/mythology of the ‘self-made man’ in the American economy has traditionally been tied to working within the economic and/or social structures to change them and broaden their benefits (think Henry Ford striving to get a car to every American). But social critics have recently been arguing that recent notions of a meritocracy based on higher education has, in fact, created a self-made sense of being purely self-made – and thus not indebted or even much connected to the larger economy.
As Don Peck at TheAtlantic.com puts it:
The rise of the meritocracy has been celebrated in the U.S., and in most ways it should be. But as social critics from Christopher Lasch to David Brooks have noted, it has also created a class of professionals and elites who seem to feel less social obligation to other Americans than in the past. Precisely because today’s elite views itself as self-made, it seems to feel less community spirit and less responsibility to help those who’ve fallen behind.
And the crisis in the economy has already created stunning social change, especially for men.
Men, in fact, are the main victims in this economy. “Pinched” describes a downturn in which men with limited education have suffered disproportionately, and perhaps permanently.
About three-quarters of the 8 million jobs that disappeared in 2008 and 2009 were held by men, and many industries dominated by men, such as construction, were devastated. The economy now needs nurses, not assembly-line workers. Men can and do work as nurses, but many men — and especially, Peck says, men who pride themselves on the toughness of their jobs — loathe the idea of work in what they see as feminized fields. And they are terrified by the thought of returning to the classroom.
This according to Jeffrey Goldberg at Bloomberg.com.
What these report hint at is the difficulty of shifting the education and support required to adjust to the economy. We might need to clarify what we mean by this ‘Depression,’ if we see a generation of men losing both wealth and self-esteem?
What nonprofits are reaching out to ‘traditional’ wage-earners who have lost not only the working source of their wages, but also their sense of purpose and accomplishment that go with such work? Are no-longer-working men going to be one of the growing demographics shyly looking for support over the next few years?
Written by: Christopher Gardner, PhD