IT'S NOT A GOOD TIME TO BE A WHITE MAN

May 20, 2009

My wife hates for me to talk about this subject.  I am facing retirement from the ministry on June 1st and know that I immediately must find work elsewhere It's now a fact that less than five percent of people my age or older will be able to retire and stay out of poverty.  The five percent who can are lottery winners and former CEOs.

Janice (my wife) knows that there is a startling fact she doesn't want us to talk about.  That is, I have a one in twenty chance of finding employment and she has a one in three.  She hates to discuss this because she might think at times that I would use this as an excuse for not finding work, or even trying.  That, I can assure her, won't happen has I am lucky to have several hobbies, seven of which can bring in some income.

Consider this:  As far as those hobbies are concerned, I could (and do) make money from advertising on this blog.  I build and repair computers, do home and small business networking, umpire baseball games, do voice work for television and radio, not to mention supply preaching for churches. 

Now consider this too: I have a doctorate and two master's degrees (all of which scares the living daylights out of the managers at McDonald's and Wal-Mart), and I have thirty two years of experience as - a Preacher.  But get this startling fact: Mary Ann Newland, a social worker with the Virginia Employment Commission has categorized me (as well as other preachers/pastors) as - ready for this -- unemployable! Compound that with the fact that churches don't pay unemployment insurance (separation of church and state precludes this) and you have the fact that there is no such thing as unemployment benefits, especially for those who happen to be "laid off" or "fired without cause" from their churches.

But, alas, I digress.  Yet for my wife's sake I will immediately say I don't seek the government's help nor will I look for a handout from taxpayers.  But for other people, these are truly hard times!

Take the story of Rodney Ringler.  Rodney is an unemployed blue collar white male without a college degree. He's hardly alone. Men like him have been the main victims of the current recession in the United States.  Ringler is 49 years of age and has worked as a computer technician for the last eighteen years.  He hasn't worked since December 22, 2007.  He sees little light at the end of the tunnel.

Ringler told a local newspaper that he's "been looking to get into law enforcement because it's a growth area." But he's had no immediate prospects as no town, city or county near him is hiring.

One statistic that stands out in America's recession-stung economy is the unemployment rate for adult men: in April for the second month in a row it surged ahead of the national average to 9.4 percent versus 8.9 percent for all workers. The jobless rate for adult women was 7.1 percent.

Another interesting Labor Department statistic covering the period from September, 2008 through April, 2009 (eight months) shows that of the 5.85 million jobs lost, 3.6 million (or 62 percent) were held by white men.  Black males lost the second most jobs during that period (1.1 million, or 19 percent).  Women (white, black and Hispanic) lost the least for a combined total of only 1.05 million (or 18 percent).

There appears to be a logical reason for this strange statistic.  White men account for most of the higher paying positions and the fact that women are still not making near the same wages as their male counterparts (about 82 percent), there you have the reason company CEO's, Presidents and share holders are laying off men.  Simply put, they make a little more.

Add to that statistic the fact that when four higher paid men are laid off, three women will be hired to replace them, being paid an average of 50 to 60 percent less!  Company owners and managers justify this pay differential due to lack of experience on the job, as they men they replace have been with their companies for years.  Never mind, those three women will be doing the same as those four men laid off.

There are other reasons too: male-heavy sectors such as construction and manufacturing have been hard hit. But the implications may be dire for the broader economy and hamper the recovery as families that once had male breadwinners struggle.

Andrew Sum, a labor economics professor at Northeastern University noted that in the 2001 recession, 51 percent of all job losses were for men. "It was evenly split. But in this recession 80 percent of the jobs that have been lost have been men's."

Sum has studied this issue in great detail.  He told Reuters that his research has uncovered the fact that men also incurred about 80 percent of the job losses in the 1990-91 recession.  Yet Sum said by his calculations the numbers this time were dramatically different. In the 1990-91 recession, men lost 1.037 million jobs. They have lost 4.7 million to date in this one. Sum dates the beginning of the recession back to November, 2007.

Professor Sum notes that "this time around it is amazingly different in terms of the magnitude. It's difficult to compare to earlier recessions because women entered the workforce in big numbers from the 1970s, and industries that continue to grow such as health services favor women."

The male jobless rate is pumped up by white collar banking jobs lost during the global financial crisis. A few of these may have been sent overseas but job growth in this sector should come back in time, analysts said.

HARD TIMES AHEAD

The fact that American males without a college degree are especially vulnerable in this cycle point to more hard times ahead for the U.S. working class.  This group has endured stagnant and declining wages for the last three decades.  In fact, since February, the Department of Labor statistics show that job losses among black males, by far the largest class without any college education, has increased nearly 200 percent over the previous six month period.

The skilled and semi-skilled jobs non-college men traditionally held have been moving overseas to places like China and Vietnam. The jobs that remain pay less, amid declining union membership.

One study by Julia Isaacs of the Brookings Institution think-tank found median U.S. family income rose to $53,280 by the middle of this decade in 2004 dollars from $37,384 in 1964. But for males aged 30 to 39, average annual personal income fell from the mid-1970s by around $5,000 to $35,000.

The growth in family incomes is mostly from women entering the workforce. But during this recession that will hardly compensate given the scale of male job losses.

For those without a college degree or better, it has been a bloodbath.  Professor Sum says that college-educated men have lost 1.4 percent of their employment levels since right before the beginning of the recession in November 2007, but for men as a whole it has been nearly six percent.

Sum said in the last recession the effects were felt more evenly across gender and occupational lines and that construction jobs grew from mid-2002 onward at a strong rate through 2007. But production and manufacturing jobs fell steadily through 2005 before making a modest recovery, and then falling swiftly.

EXPANDED WOMEN'S ROLE

This is grim news for struggling blue collar families. While women's role in the workforce has expanded, by some estimates the male remains the main breadwinner in about 75 percent of two-income U.S. households. Peter Doeringer, a Professor of Economics at Boston University, explains that when males lose their jobs women become more important to family income, and those that have not been working will re-enter the labor market to sustain family income.

Doeringer says that women have an extremely easier time of finding work than men.  "There is still that perceive notion that you have to pay a man a little more and when a company is cash strapped, it's easier to justify the hiring of a woman, even if the job to be done is a traditional male-type job.

Patti Sutton is a 58 year old coffee shop worker in the Phoenix Valley.  She falls into this category.  Her husband Scott was laid off in October last year. He had worked for 18 years for a company as a heavy equipment operator excavating the foundations for luxury homes, earning about $800-900 a week without overtime, and was among the last five workers to be laid off from a staff of 155.

Patti is now the family breadwinner. She went out to work to get health insurance coverage for her husband in the year before he was laid off after he lost coverage for a heart condition from his employer. He needs a heart transplant, and was facing insurance costs of $1,800 a month.

Sutton says "it's not like I'm exactly earning enough to be the breadwinner. Basically this job is for insurance, what I bring home barely covers food and maybe a utility."

She believes that her situation may be permanent, despite the fact that construction jobs are seen coming back eventually, spurred in part by President Barack Obama's $787 billion fiscal stimulus plan that includes funds for road and bridge construction.

But many manufacturing jobs are gone for good, as huge sectors like the auto industry suffer profound cuts.  Professor Doeringer said the recession will leave the economy "sharply restructured."

Construction jobs will return, but we are seeing an unusually sharp drop in what is left of manufacturing and much of that drop will not be recovered when the recession ends, and much of what does remain will have be at lower wages with reduced fringe benefits.

No, its not a good day to be a man.  Given the job loss stats of the last nine months it's certainly not a good day to be a white man.

I won't forget that not long ago, my wife's brother and I were sitting in a local Starbucks.  After retiring from the Air Force and fifteen years of civil service, he found that his pension wasn't paying the bills.  He has been seeking employment to supplement his retirement for nearly a year and a half.  After filling out over 450 applications and sending out nearly 200 resumes for jobs ranging from an overnight desk clerk job to the sales position at a local ABC store, he finally came to this conclusion: "I should shave my legs!"

Now when he finds a job listing in the newspaper that appeals to him he says, "I'm gonna go and shave my legs now and see if I can get this job."  Too bad Jerry isn't blond and a little better looking.  He could land a gig as an anchor on Fox News.

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