How This Economy Is Just Murder for Blue-Collar Workers

My Atlantic colleague Don Peck has written a great new book called "Pinched," about the impact of the economic downturn (and of globalization and mechanization) on the majority of Americans who don't live in places like Boston and San Francisco and Washington and who don't have advanced degrees. Don, of course, has been writing about this subject for a while, most recently on the cover of this month's Atlantic (you can read it for free, but subscribing to the print magazine will make you feel noble).

I talk to Don for my Bloomberg View column this week, about the most significant threat to the American dream:

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. So what do they do instead?
"They leave the workforce," Peck told me. "In 1967, among men with a high-school degree between the ages of 30 and 50, 97 percent had jobs. Today, it's 76 percent. There are a lot of guys who are just leaving the workforce."

What happens next, of course, is disaster.

"When you have these communities where you have a lot of people without much education, and all of a sudden the construction and manufacturing jobs are lost, the guys don't know what to do, and the whole community changes," Peck said. "You have a very low marriage rate, but women still want to have kids and do have kids. Couples just don't stay together."

I would personally suggest you read the whole thing.

Presented by

Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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