Article 43

 

Personal

Monday, January 01, 2018

Personality and Unemployment

image: wumaoin in depressing job

Long-Term Unemployment Changes Personality Traits

Mental Health Daily
February 25, 2015

In the United States, there are an estimated 18 million people that are unemployed. Much of this is due to economic changes that have occurred within the past decade. In the year 1996, there were an estimated 750,000 households living on less than $2 per day (prior to receiving government benefits). As of the year 2011, this figure had doubled to a whopping 1.5 million households, as a result of many people getting laid off or being unable to find work.

From 1991 to the year 2001, the United States was in its longest ever period of economic expansion. Even from 2001 to 2007, the economy continued to expand with the “Dot Com” boom and technological advancements with the computer. In the year 2007, a period known as the “Great Moderation” came to an end as the ripple effects of the subprime mortgage crisis took hold. This “recession” eventually ended, but unemployment rates are still fairly high.

One problem is that there is significant competition for low-level jobs, and many people simply lack the skills to perform higher level functions. Additionally some people chose to remain unemployed due to the fact that they feel it is below their dignity to take a low paying job [after getting laid off from a better paying one]. Although being unemployed for a short duration may not be a huge setback, a new study highlights that long-term unemployment can not only be DETRIMENTAL to your psychological health, it can cause your personality to change for the worse.

Long-Term Unemployment Changes Personality Traits: The Research

Research at the University of Stirling headed by Christopher Boyce decided to investigate the psychological impact of being unemployed by determining how personality traits are affected with prolonged unemployment. What he found was that your core personality traits can change (usually for the worse) the longer you’re unemployed.

How the study worked

Sample: Boyce and his team of researchers examined a sample size of 6,769 German adults over a period of 4 years. Throughout this 4-year period, 210 people were unemployed for between 1 and 4 years, and 251 people were unemployed less than 1 year before getting a new job.

3,733 men
3,036 women

Methods: Throughout the 4 year period, personality tests were administered to all of the participants. These personality tests assessed the “Big Five” personality traits (in psychology) including: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. The personality tests were given at different time points. It should also be noted that all participants were EMPLOYED AT THE TIME of the first test. By the second test, the participant was either: still employed, unemployed for 1-4 years, or re-employed after being unemployed.

Results: Unemployment resulted in significant change to personality traits such as: agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness. Those that were unemployed for a short-duration and then re-employed experienced minor change.

Agreeableness

Men: Men were found to experience an increase in agreeableness during their first 2 years of unemployment. However, after the initial couple years, agreeableness levels dropped, and went on to become lower than men who were employed.

Women: For women, agreeableness was a trait that declined with each year of unemployment. Throughout the 4 year period, levels of agreeableness continued to drop with the passing of another year.

Lead researcher, Boyce, speculated that in the earlier stages of unemployment, agreeableness may be a favorable trait to find another job. Certain incentives may make people behave more agreeable to improve their current situation. However, he also believes that after a 2 year period, those without jobs may be significantly less agreeable simply because their bleak outlook and unemployment has become psychologically solidified.

Conscientiousness

Men: It was also discovered that the longer men were without a job, the more their level of conscientiousness dropped. Conscientiousness is characterized by the desire to perform a task TO THE BEST OF ONE’S ABILITY, with thoroughness, organization, and vigilance. This is a trait that is specifically associated with enjoying your income. Since you have no income to enjoy, this may be partly why conscientiousness plummets.

Women: It seemed as though women actually gained conscientiousness in the early and late stages of being unemployed. Researchers believe that this may be due to the fact that women often assist in “caregiving” activities.

Openness

Men: After just 1 year of being unemployed, the trait of openness decreased among men. This means that their curiosity for the world around them experienced a significant drop.

Women: Although women didnt experience a sharp drop in levels of openness after just 1 year of being unemployed, they did experience a major drop by the second and third years of unemployment. Oddly enough, this trait significantly improved during their 4th year of unemployment.

SOURCE

Personality trait changes make it tougher to get hired

When you become unemployed, particularly for a long period of time, three of the “Big Five” personality traits take a turn for the worst. This often makes it even tougher for an individual to find work. If you all of a sudden become less agreeable with others, your conscientiousness plummets, and you have a less open personality, prospective employers may be more likely to turn you down for a job.

Agreeableness: This is a personality trait associated with sympathy for others, kindness, and cooperation. A drop in agreeableness may be associated with lack of a work routine, particularly one that involves social interaction. When you don’t have to work with others (or are alone a lot), there’s no need for the concept of teamwork to finish a particular task. At most jobs, you often have to do (at least a little bit of) work with someone else, bolstering your trait of agreeableness.

Conscientiousness: This trait is not only associated with performing a particular job well, its associated with motivation and ability to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor. If you aren’t conscientious, you probably don’t experience much motivation to get off your butt for work, let alone perform to the peak of your ability. When you’re unemployed, you have fewer opportunities to express this particular trait, leading to it becoming “dulled” in the process.

Openness: This is another social trait that allows you to allow (or try) new experiences. Those that have high levels of openness tend to try new things a lot. When you’re unemployed, you may not have the opportunity to engage in new experiences, particularly those that are often induced via socialization. This may also be related to the fact that when youre unemployed, you have less funds to partake in new, novel experiences (e.g. vacation). The lack of new stimuli for a prolonged period of time may make you less likely to engage in new experiences when finally given the opportunity.

Toll of unemployment more than just economic loss

The leader of the study (Boyce) believes that the effect of unemployment is more than just a financial loss. Unemployment creates a ripple effect that affects a person’s core personality traits often detrimentally. Therefore, he believes that the government should make their best effort to reduce unemployment rates to increase well being.

Boyce was quoted as stating, “Public policy therefore has a key role to play in preventing adverse personality change in society through both lower unemployment rates and offering greater support for the unemployed. Policies to reduce unemployment are therefore vital not only to protect the economy but also to enable positive personality growth in individuals.”

Additionally, he implied that our personalities are not “fixed” and that external factors (e.g. unemployment) can have a huge impact on personality traits. This means that there are other areas of your life such as relationships, friendships, hobbies, etc. that may impact the way your brain works and personality development.

Being unemployed creates neuroplastic changes in the brain

This research further supports the concept of self-directed neuroplasticity. Your entire brain functioning can change in response to wherever you focus your attention and put forth effort. If you become unemployed, you are now AWARE THAT YOU’RE UNEMPLOYED, aren’t contributing to anything meaningful, and your entire demeanor can change. If you continue to focus on the new way you’re FEELING and don’t find work, you’ll give more power to the new neural-pathways that develop.

Personality was long thought to remain stable over the lifetime, but researchers clearly demonstrate that something as simple as unemployment produces significant change for 3 of the “Big Five” personality traits. People that were previously conscientious, agreeable, and open, experienced major drops in expressions of these traits. Furthermore the changes (for the worse) were more significant based on duration of unemployment.

The longer the duration of being unemployed, the more severe the effects The personality changes undergo amplification the longer you remain unemployed. To decrease the likelihood that you’ll endure a debilitating personality change while you’re unemployed, it is recommended to find some sort of work (even if its volunteer work) to keep your favorable personality traits strong.

Suggestions for preventing unemployment-induced personality change

Below is a list of suggestions that you may want to keep in mind for mitigating the effects associated with unemployment.

Find a new job (ASAP): If you were working, but got laid off, fired, or quit your old job, the first thing you should do is find a new job as soon as possible. DonҒt wait for yourself to feel better before you start applying for something new, just do it right away. Getting a new job as soon as possible will result in the least amount of personality change. Some would argue that your personality wont change at all if you find work right away.

Health: While unemployed, make sure you are taking care of your personal health. Eating an optimal diet for mental health and getting plenty of exercise will provide significant benefit (Read: Psychological benefits of exercise). Do not neglect your health by taking up drinking and/or drugs to cope with your unemployment, this may lead to more detrimental outcomes.

Learn new skills: If you feel as though your current employment skills are outdated, take the time to learn new ones. Really put in the effort to find a mentor, teacher, and/or program that will help you learn what you need to know. Many people shy away from learning new skills when they are necessary in order to stay afloat in this economy.

Practice current skills: In order to keep your current skill-set as sharp as possible, you need to practice them. If you are a writer, keep writing everyday so that you donҒt lose your ability to perform well. If your skill involves designing, keep designing daily to improve upon your existing technique. Practicing your skills will ensure that there is no rustӔ or decline associated with your ability throughout a period of temporary unemployment.

Relentless pursuit: Those that get jobs quickly after becoming unemployed are relentless in their pursuit. Some are so relentless that they dont really care where they have to work, theyҒre going to work. If it means working at McDonalds or even Wal-Mart, they’re going to take the work because not only will it keep them busy, they will get social interaction, and will still earn some money. The goal is to continuously pursue work (particularly the career that you want), while not being overly picky. Remember, you can always leave a job you accept, but you cant leave a job offer you turn down.

Social connections: Stay as socially involved and connected with the community as possible. Not only can socialization help you maintain beneficial personality traits, someone you talk to may help you get a job. Having favorable social connections is a powerful tool that you can leverage to get work.

Stay busy: Avoid becoming lackadaisical as a result of newfound unemployment. Keep yourself busy so that you aren’t dwelling on the fact that youre unemployed. Dwelling on the depressing reality that you’re unemployed will further strengthen its control over you and your brain. Keep yourself occupied with friends, family, volunteer work, housework, and applying for jobs.

Why unemployment may cause psychological harm

There are several reasons that being unemployed may cause personality change and/or psychological harm (for some individuals). Most of these stem from feeling socially isolated for a prolonged period of time.

Social isolation: Perhaps the biggest detriment associated with unemployment is a social disconnect. If you relied on your co-workers to be your primary social contacts in the past, you may not feel like you can talk to anyone. During the day, most other people are working, and you may start to feel socially isolated from society.

Belief system: Being unemployed can quickly change your belief system as well. You may start to believe that the reason you donŒt have a job is due to the fact that you are incompetent and incapable of producing any value. While this is not likely to be true, many people start to believe that they are incapable and/or dont have the necessary skills for a job if they donҒt get hired.

Decreased income: When you aren’t earning any money from a job, you probably won’t be able to afford quality foods, top medical care, and living in a quality community. A simple decline in one area of your life such as that of dietary intake can have major consequences that influence other areas (e.g. cognitive function and mental health). In the past you may have been able to afford quality things, but with dwindling funds, you may have to settle for a poorer quality of life.

Depression: Losing a job can result in many people feeling depressed. They may become depressed for a variety of reasons, most of which stem from a loss. The depression may stem from lack of stability and a structured routine that a job provides. The depression may be exacerbated by lack of finances and the psychological stress associated with getting laid off and/or fired.

Anxiety: Some people become incredibly anxious that they don’t have work. This is due to the fact that their job loss was unexpected, and they “panic” because they have never been without work. Stress hormones takeover the body and a person may even have a nervous breakdown. Others become FEARFUL THAT THEY’LL RUN OUT OF MONEY, aren’t able to stay in the “loop,” or begin to feel inferior to others as a result of not having work.

Loneliness: You may start to feel incredibly LONELY now that you are without work. While loneliness is not the same as social isolation, many people feel lonely as a result of lack of social contact. If you were around many people at work, but now you don’t have a community of people to interact with, you may end up feeling more depressed, and in some cases SUICIDAL.

Perceptual changes: Your entire self-perception may undergo change when you become unemployed. While working you may have viewed yourself as a competent breadwinner for the family. Now that you are no longer working and earning money, you may start to become depressed and feel more uncertain about your future. Even small perceptual changes can be detrimental to your mental health.

SOURCE

Personal experience with unemployment

Although I don’t consider the results of the study to be conclusive and in no way does correlation equal causation, but I can testify for the fact that my levels of: agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness have all dropped (significantly) during the time Ive been unemployed. While employed and occupied with work, I actually found it easier to stay motivated in all areas of life.

Even the little bit of social interaction that I got from the job I worked helped me feel less lonely and socially isolated. If I’m being objective, my personality has changed since Ive been unemployed. Fortunately I wasn’t laid off or fired by my employer, rather I left my old career due to relocation. Below are some phases I personally experienced, many of which I believe go hand-in-hand with post-college depression.

Phase 1: Anxiety / Depression

Initially I experienced a lot of anxiety about where I was going to find new work and stay socially connected. The anxiety was intertwined with a depressed feeling that I shouldve stayed at my old job. I was nervous about making enough money to keep myself alive and functional and I was depressed that I lacked the social skills to go out and get a new job. The more I focused on my reality of being unemployed, the worse the anxiety and depression became.

Phase 2: Existential crisis

Likely due to lack of structure or routine in my day (that work provides) I went through an existential crisis. I got caught up with several addictions (many of which were difficult to overcome). At one point I was caught up in drinking and/or popping pain pills. Eventually the addiction shifted to sex and/or porn. I couldnҒt figure out what I was meantӔ to do here or my purpose for existing. It took me a long time before I realized that if I wanted purpose and meaning, I had to create it.

Phase 3: Social withdrawal

I went through another phase characterized by loss of social skills. I didnt lose all of my social skills at once, rather they just slowly declined with decreased usage. The withdrawal made me less relatable to others, less likely to approach others, and really decreased my courage. I became significantly more timid and less likely to explore new places (e.g. restaurants).

Phase 4: Cognitive impairment

I believe my cognition and wit declined in part due to lack of usage. I know for a fact that my writing isn’t as precise or conscientious as it was in the past. I still try my best, but my cognitive abilities have declined as a result of decreased usage. The ability of socialization to keep me stimulated and mentally “aroused” lead to better cognitive function. The fact that I dont get as much socialization as I did in the past has hampered my cognition to an extent.

Phase 5: Motivational deficits

Motivation declines significantly without social contact and/or a structured routine. Even if your workplace is crappy, you can still stay motivated. In fact, many times people that you dislike working with may serve to further motivate you to change and/or contribute more. It is nature for many to want to compete with others (in terms of production). Being around others can be inspiring and/or motivating in that there’s sometimes a bit of competition.

Phase 6: Realization

At some point, I realized that I had been declining in virtually all areas of my life, including my ability to think critically and write. Upon realizing this had occurred, I took conscious steps to slowly improve my situation. The key is to build some degree of positive momentum when you’ve trapped yourself into thinking that you’ll never be able to make a living or have a good life.

I created this momentum by forcing myself to writehere everyday, which is part of the routine that Ive established. I also make myself go to the gym 4x per week on the same schedule, and attend a ғgroup function 2x per week - regardless of how I feel. I walk outside daily, force myself to call family and/or friends, and talk to people when I have the opportunity. To mitigate the loneliness I also frequently listen to podcasts. Not only does it help me learn new things and gain perspectives, but the comfort of hearing a human voice decreases my loneliness.

Keep in mind: Correlation Doesn’t Equal Causation

It is important to realize that although this study discovered that several personality traits experienced change during times of unemployment, causation is difficult to establish. Some people may actually experience an increase in agreeableness and openness as a result of increased socialization during their time of being unemployed. Although there may be common trends among the unemployed, not everyone experiences this same effect.

There are individuals who lose their job and actually spend more time building quality relationships and making healthy lifestyle changes. It should also be mentioned that this study was conducted in a population of German citizens. Would we find the same trends among populations from other countries? It cannot be assumed until someone carries out a similar study in the particular country of interest.

Certain countries may utilize different coping strategies than others for dealing with unemployment. In some areas, being unemployed may not result in as steep of decline in traits like openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. It would also be worth investigating whether being employed (particularly in a positive environment) could increase the strength of certain (favorable) “Big Five” traits.

In other words, investigate whether people are deficient in certain traits by placing them into positive work-environments. Determine whether their personalities change over the course of 4 years. Similarly it may be worth investigating whether high-stress jobs and/or other unsatisfactory careers may serve as detrimental to one’s personality and/or mental health. Perhaps Working a DEAD END JOB may be worse for your personality than being unemployed.

Note: It should also be understood that not everyone follows the same decline in expression of the three traits within the study with long-term unemployment.  Realize that there is significant variation based upon the individual.

Adapting to the current economic times

Its really sink or swim, fly or fall, eat or be eaten, adapt or get left in the dust these days in regards to the economy, which makes it tough for many people. From a historical perspective, many people held cushy jobs that allowed them to earn a healthy living without actually contributing much to society. Now that those jobs are becoming obsolete and companies are downsizing, itҒs becoming more difficult to find work unless you have skills to fit the fast-changing economic times.

Additionally with a growing population and increased demand for technological-related skills, older generations are having a tough time finding work. The unfortunate reality is that if you are unemployed, you need to find something to fill that emotional void. Sure its about making enough money to support yourself, but the other aspects that come with a job such as social interaction (even if they aren’t positive interactions) keep the brain alertand stimulated and are often underrated.

Lack of social stimulation over a prolonged period is downright unhealthy and could lead to various forms of neurodegeneration. The age old adage in regards to personality seems to apply: if you don’t use it, you lose it. The less you express certain personality traits, the less likely you will be able to use them in the future. Similarly with your work-related skills, the less you use them, the more likely you are to lose them - all of which decrease your value in the eyes of an employer.

If you are unemployed, find a new job as soon as possible for not only the finances, but the socialization that accompanies it. You could be preserving many positive personality traits by getting a job as soon as you are unemployed. The longer you wait, the tougher it will be not only for you to find work, but to maintain positive personality traits such as: agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 01/01/18 •
Section Dealing with Layoff • Section Personal
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Monday, October 02, 2017

The New Reality Of Old Age In America

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By Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post
Sept. 30, 2017

Richard Dever had swabbed the campground shower stalls and emptied 20 garbage cans, and now he climbed slowly onto a John Deere mower to cut a couple acres of grass.

"I’m going to work until I die, if I can, because I need the money,” said Dever, 74, who drove 1,400 miles to this Maine campground from his home in Indiana to take a temporary job that pays $10 an hour.

Dever shifted gently in the tractor seat, a rubber cushion carefully positioned to ease the bursitis in his hip - a snapshot of the new reality of old age in America.

People are living longer, more expensive lives, often without much of a safety net. As a result, record numbers of Americans older than 65 are working now nearly 1 in 5. That proportion has risen steadily over the past decade, and at a far faster rate than any other age group. Today, 9 million senior citizens work, compared with 4 million in 2000.

While some work by choice rather than need, millions of others are entering their golden years with alarmingly fragile finances. Fundamental changes in the U.S. retirement system have shifted responsibility for saving from the employer to the worker, exacerbating the nation’ s rich-poor divide. Two recent recessions devastated personal savings. And at a time when 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 every day, Social Security benefits have lost about a third of their purchasing power since 2000.

Polls show that most older people are more worried about running out of money than dying.

“There is no part of the country where the majority of middle-class older workers have adequate retirement savings to maintain their standard of living in their retirement,” said Teresa Ghilarducci, a labor economist who specializes in retirement security. “People are coming into retirement with a lot more anxiety and a lot less buying power.”

As a result, many older workers are hitting the road as work campers also called “workampers” - those who shed costly lifestyles, purchase RVs and travel the nation picking up seasonal jobs that typically offer hourly wages and few or no benefits.

Amazons “CamperForce” program hires thousands of these silver-haired migrant workers to box online orders during the Christmas rush. (Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.) Walmart, whose giant parking lots are famous for welcoming RV travelers, has hired elderly people as store greeters and cashiers. Websites such as the Workamper News list jobs as varied as ushering at NASCAR tracks in Florida, picking sugar beets in Minnesota and working as security guards in the Texas oil fields.

In Maine, which calls itself “Vacationland,” thousands of seniors are drawn each summer to the state’s rocky coastline and picturesque small towns, both as vacationers and seasonal workers. In Bar Harbor, one of the states most popular tourist destinations, well-to-do retirees come ashore from luxury cruise ships to dine on $30 lobsters and $13 glasses of sauvignon blanc җ leaving tips for other senior citizens waiting on oceanfront tables, driving Olis Trolley buses or taking tickets for whale-watching tours.

The Devers have noticed this economic divide. They found their campground jobs online and drove here in May, with plans to stay until the season ends in October. On a recent day off, they took a bus tour near Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, where the tour guide pointed out the oceanfront Rockefeller estate and Martha StewartҒs 12-bedroom mansion.

The ones who go on these ritzy, ritzy cruises to all these islands in Maine, “I don’t know how they got all that money. Maybe they were born into it,” said Jeannie, 72. “And then you see this poor little old retired person next door, who can hardly keep going. And hes got his little trailer.”

On Election Day last November, the Devers expressed their frustration. For more than 50 years, they had supported mainstream candidates in both parties, casting their ballots for John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. This time, they concluded that the Democrat, Hillary Clinton, would be no help to them. And they found the Republican standard-bearer, Donald Trump, too mouthy.Ӕ

So, for the first time in their lives, they cast protest votes, joining legions of disaffected voters whose aversion to Clinton helped propel Trump into the White House. Richard voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson. Jeannie left her presidential ballot blank.

We are all talking about this, but not politicians. Helping people build a nest egg is not on their agenda,Ӕ Jeannie said. We are the forgotten people.Ӕ

This job is a blessing

The Devers first hit the road in their 33-foot American Star RV when Jeannie turned 65. Since then, they have worked jobs in Wyoming, Pennsylvania and now Maine. In addition to their $10-an-hour paychecks, the couple receives $22,000 a year from Social Security, an amount that has barely budged while healthcare and other costs have soared.

If we didn’t work, our money would run out real quick, Richard said.

On a recent Friday, the Devers met for lunch back at their RV, Richard’s plaid shirt and suspenders dusty from mowing the drought-dried grass. Jeannie had spent the morning working the front desk in the campground office, where she checks people in and sells bug spray, marshmallows and other camping essentials.

As usual, she had arrived a half-hour early for her 9 a.m. shift to make sure everything was tidy for the first customer. Full of cheer and wearing white sneakers, she shies from talking about her macular degeneration and arthritic knuckles. “This job is a blessing,” she said.

“President Trump is one year younger than Jeannie and, she said, has more money than we can even imagine.” She muses that he probably will hand a lot down to his kids - another generation of rich people who, Richard and Jeannie believe, tend to be born that way.

The Devers know how hard it is to make it on your own.

In 1960, when John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon were running for president, Richard started repairing homes and Jeannie made root beer floats in a drugstore back home in southern Indiana, near the Kentucky border. Later, they ran a business that put vinyl siding on homes and a little start-up called Southwest Stuff that sold Western-themed knickknacks.

They raised two children and lived well enough but never had much extra cash to put away. After a lifetime of working, they have a small mobile home in Indiana, a couple of modest life insurance policies and $5,000 in savings.

The Devers are better off than many Americans. One in 5 have no savings, and millions retire with nothing in the bank. Nearly 30 percent of households headed by someone 55 or older have neither a pension nor any retirement savings, according to a 2015 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

From the camper’s compact refrigerator, Jeannie pulled a tub of meatloaf she had cooked in her crockpot a couple of days earlier.

“Are you good with just a sandwich?” she called to Richard.

“Just a sandwich, thanks,” he said, emerging from the bedroom in a fresh plaid shirt, bought for $2 at Goodwill. His blue-striped suspenders dangled below his waistband.

Without a word, Jeannie leaned over and slipped them over his shoulders a daily task that keeps getting harder for the man she married 55 years ago.

A Wall Street gold mine

While most Americans are unprepared for retirement, rich older people are doing better than ever. Among people older than 65, the wealthiest 20 percent own virtually all of the nations $25 trillion in retirement accounts, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Employers have gradually shifted from traditional pensions, with guaranteed benefits for life, to 401(k) accounts that run out when the money has been spent. Those accounts work best for the wealthy, who not only have the extra cash to invest but also use 401(k)s to shelter their income from taxes while they are working.

People with little financial know-how often find 401(k)s confusing. Millions of people opt not to participate, or contribute too little, or take money out at the wrong time and are charged huge fees.

Even people who manage to save for retirement often face a grim calculation: Among people between 55 and 64 who have retirement accounts, the median value of those accounts is just over $120,000, according to the Federal Reserve. So people are forced to guess how long they might live and budget their money accordingly, knowing that one big health problem, or a year in a nursing home, could wipe it all out.

The system has been a gold mine for Wall Street. Brokerages and insurance companies that manage retirement accounts earned roughly $33 billion in fees last year, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

Ted Benna, a retirement consultant who is credited with creating the modern 401(k), called those fees ғoutrageous. Many people ԗ especially those who need the money the most donגt even know they are paying them, he said.

Compared with the old system of company pensions, the new retirement system does not serve the average American well, said Ghilarducci, the labor economist, who teaches at the New School in New York.

It’s as if we moved from a system where everybody went to the dentist to a system where everybody now pulls their own teeth, she said.

The rich help the rich

A few miles up the road from the Devers, Joanne Molnar, 64, and her husband, Mark, 62, live in their RV and work at another campground.

For 21 years, Joanne worked as a manager for a day-care company in Fairfield, Conn. She said she paid regularly into a 401(k) account that, at one point, was worth more than $40,000.

By the time she left the company in 2008, however, its value had fallen to $2,000.

Molnar said the company’s owner thought he was doing his 100 employees a favor by managing their retirement accounts. But he didn;t know what he was doing, she said. Instead of being angry with him, sheҔs furious with the 401(k) system.

“It stinks,” she said.

As Joannes retirement account was further battered by the Great Recession in 2008, the Molnars sold Mark’s share of his piano-restoration business and their home in Connecticut, which had lost value but kept attracting higher and higher property tax bills.

They bought a 25-foot RV for $13,000 and started looking for work near their three sons, one of whom lives near Bar Harbor, and their six grandchildren. After finishing at the Maine campground this fall, they plan to look for work in Texas or Wisconsin, near their other children.

Like the Devers, the Molnars say they are frustrated that the problems of older Americans do not seem to register in Washington.

The little people are drowning, and nobody wants to talk about it,” Joanne said. “Us middle-class, or lower-class, people are just not part of anything politicians decide.”

Last year, the Molnars grew more optimistic when they heard Trump promising in campaign speeches to help the “forgotten people.” Like a majority of older voters, Joanne voted for Trump. She said she thought maybe a businessman, an outsider, would finally address the economic issues that matter to her.

But the Molnars said that with each passing week of the Trump presidency, they are growing less hopeful.

“We’ll see. I’m just getting a little worried now,” Joanne said. “I just think he’s not going to be helping the lower class as much as he thought he would.

The recent battle to repeal Obamacare was “kind of scary,” she said, noting that Trump supported legislation that would have slashed Medicaid and left more people without government-subsidized insurance. Although the effort failed, Joanne and Mark remain nervous.

“The rich help the rich, and I’m starting to think that not enough will fall down to us,” Mark said, as he methodically bolted together one of 170 new picnic tables.

Mark signed up to begin collecting Social Security this summer. Even with those monthly checks, he figures hell have to work at least 10 more years.

FORGET THE GOVERNMENT. It’s got to be ‘We the People,’ he said. ”WE’RE ON OUR OWN.” You have to fend for yourself.

It’s not fun getting old

At the end of a long day at work, Richard and Jeannie Dever met back at their RV. After mowing the grass in the hot sun, Richard, who is just shy of his 75th birthday, was sweating under his baseball cap. He was tired.

It’s not fun getting old, he said.

Asked whether he was more worried about dying or running out of money, Richard thought about it, then said with a shrug, “I guess its a toss-up.”

Jeannie took off her sneakers and rested her swollen ankles. Richard recently cut back to 33 hours a week, but she was still working 40 hours, sometimes a few more.

A few days earlier, she had spent four hours cleaning a trailer where the guests had used a fire extinguisher to put out a small stove fire. She got down on the linoleum floor and lay on her stomach to reach the dust under the stove.

In the years ahead, Jeannie said, she hopes to find a job where she can sit down.

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Posted by Elvis on 10/02/17 •
Section Revelations • Section Dying America • Section Personal
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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Deaths Of Despair II

image: man about to kill himself

Just because a person attempts suicide doesn’t mean they want to die. Rather, often they have lost what I call the, “power of hope”.  When faced with a BAD SITUATION that has NO END IN SIGHT, coupled with the helpless feeling that NOTHING YOU CAN DO will make a difference, it’s all too easy to LOSE HOPE. AT SOME POINT suicide for some becomes a viable option, rather than CONTINUNG TO FACE the constant pain and suffering that life has become. If you can give someone who is contemplating suicide merely the glimmer of hope, that is often enough to get them through the rough patch to consider other options.
- White, Middle-Age Suicide In America Skyrocket

This May Be Responsible for the High Suicide Rate Among White, American Men

By Philip Perry
Big Think
July 2, 2017

TODAY, being white and male are the two single greatest risk factors for suicide in the US. That’s according to the authors of: EXPLAINING SUICIDE:  PATTERNS, MOTIVATIONS WHAT NOTES REVEAL. Psychology professor Cheryl Meyer, is among them. She says “hegemonic masculinity is what’s killing these men. They try to live up to a social stereotype no one could measure up to. Not only that, their model doesn’t square with today’s world.

In 2015, two Princeton economists found that the death rate among white, middle-aged men, rather than falling, like with most other groups, was instead rising. The mortality rate for working class white men, between the ages of 45 and 54 had been steadily rising since 1999.

According to suicide prevention expert, Dr. Christine Moutier, white, middle-aged men account for 70% of deaths from suicide each year. Nine-tenths of them are from a lower socioeconomic class. 

“These are being called deaths of despair.” Harvard public policy professor Robert D. Putnam, told the BBC, “This is part of the larger emerging pattern of evidence of the links between poverty, hopelessness and health. Veterans are often one of the largest segments within this group. According to a 2014 Veterans Affairs (VA) report, 20 commit suicide each day. 65% of them are age 50 or older.

A larger segment of this group has chosen the slow suicide route. Many are succumbing to things like alcohol liver disease or a drug overdose. So what;s causing this? White men without a college degree have seen their employment prospects dwindle in the last few decades, mostly due to mechanization.

Their mental health has withered as a result. In terms of economics, globalization and income inequality have worsened the problem as well, though most economists agree mechanization is the biggest cause. However, middle-aged black and Hispanic men at the same education level, have also been impacted by these same economic forces. Yet, the suicide rate among these groups hasn’t risen.

Besides ECONOMIC WOES, some experts point to the heightened divorce rate among men in this age-range. Whether married or single, women tend to open up to friends and family about their troubles and build a strong network of support. Whereas men generally don’t. If they open up at all, its usually to their partner. But for the divorced or single, there’s no such outlet.

Hegemonic masculinity, according to Meyer, is the idea that ones machismo must be broadcast constantly, no matter what he is dealing with or how he feels inside. It’s stoicism taken to the nth degree. Several studies have found that hegemonic masculinity is detrimental to mens well-being and health outcomes, including Sabo & Gordon, 1995; Courtenay, 2000; and Lee & Owens, 2002.

Psychotherapist Daphne Rose Kingma is the author of the book, The Men We Never Knew. She said, “Because of the way boys are socialized, their ability to deal with emotions has been systematically undermined. Men are taught, point-by-point, not to feel, not to cry, and not to find words to express themselves.” Everyone needs to be vulnerable sometimes, and to have someone to confide in and gain support from. Yet, men are taught to feel ashamed or even guilty for doing so.

The customary outlook on masculinity has been shaken to its core by the realities of today’s labor market. Men were traditionally seen as providers. But today, many women earn more than the men in their lives. American women for the first time are more likely to earn a college degree than men. A ”FEMINIZATION” of the labor market has begun as well, offering far more positions where traditional female-oriented skills are valued.

Caucasian men have enjoyed white hegemony in the US. That’s changing. As the “Browning of America” takes shape, whites will become a minority, projected to take place by 2045. Although this may usher in more social equality, the loss of a given-at-birth superiority will chafe a certain segment of the Caucasian community.

Besides the changing status of white men with no college degree, there’s a problem with how we view masculinity in general. It stands in the way of those who are in trouble, getting the help they need and in fact, it isn’t healthy for men or society as a whole, either. In most cases, men are suffering from an eroded sense of self and identity.

They are trying to fit into a role that’s no longer supported by the real world. One way to overcome this, is to update our definition of masculinity for the 21st century. Another would be to build a more gender neutral society, where everyone is looked upon on an individual basis, despite their gender. Regardless of the path we take, men and society as a whole, must become less rigid regarding It’s outlook on masculinity and somehow adopt a more pluralistic view.

To learn more about the suicide epidemic and you can do about it, click HERE

SOURCE

DEATHS OF DESPAIR

Posted by Elvis on 08/12/17 •
Section Dying America • Section Spiritual Diversions • Section Personal
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Friday, August 11, 2017

Unmarried Boomers and Old Age

image: depressed old man

No Spouse, No Kids, No Caregiver: How to Prepare to Age Alone
A growing population of “elder orphans” lack a built-in support system.
What to do if you become one.

By Anna Medaris Miller
US News
October 26, 2015

When Carol Marak was in her 30s, she asked herself whose life she wanted: her brother’s the life of a successful and well-traveled businessman ֖ or his wife’s the life of a woman whose career better accommodated raising three children.

The answer was a no-brainer: “My brother was in a position I wanted,” says Marak, now a 64-year-old editor at SeniorCare.com who lives in Waco, Texas. Although she had been married and divorced earlier in life, at that point she had no kids and “made a very conscious decision” to keep it that way, she says.

Plenty of Marak’s peers did the same thing. According to a 2012 STUDY in The Gerontologist, about one-third of 45- to 63-year-olds are single, most of whom never married or are DIVORCED. That’s a whopping 50 percent increase since 1980, the study found. What’s more, about 15 percent of 40- to 44-year-old women had no children in 2012 up from about 10 percent in 1980, U.S. Census data shows. “My career was No. 1 in my life,” says Marak, who worked in the technology industry for years.

But today, Marak and her single, childless contemporaries are facing a repercussion of their decision that never crossed their minds as 30-somethings: “How in the world will we take care of ourselves?” she asks.

Dr. Maria Torroella Carney, chief of geriatrics and palliative medicine at North Shore-LIJ Health System in New York, is asking the same thing. In research presented this year at The American Geriatric Society’s annual meeting, Carney and her colleagues found that nearly one-quarter of Americans over age 65 are or may become physically or socially isolated and lack someone like a family member to care for them. Carney calls them “elder orphans.”

“The risk of potentially finding yourself without a support system - because the majority of care provided as we get older is provided by family may be increasing,” she says.

The consequences are profound. According to Carney’s work, older adults who consider themselves lonely are more likely to have trouble completing daily tasks, experience cognitive decline, develop coronary heart disease and even die. Those who are socially isolated are also at risk for medical complications, mental illness, mobility issues and health care access problems.

“You could be at a hospital setting at a time of crisis and could delay your treatment or care, and your wishes may not be respected [if you can’t communicate them],” says Carney, also an associate professor at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine.

Take “Mr. HB,” a 76-year-old New York man described in Carney’s research as “a prototypical elder orphan.” After attempting suicide, he arrived at a hospital with cuts on his wrist, bed sores, dehydration, malnutrition and depression. He lived alone and hadn’t been in contact with any relatives in over a year. His treatment was complicated, the researchers report, in part because he was too delirious to make clear decisions or understand his options. He wound up at a nursing facility with plans to eventually be placed in long-term care.

But growing older without kids or a partner doesn’t mean you’re doomed - just as aging with kids and a partner doesn’t mean all’s clear. “We’re all at risk for becoming isolated and becoming elder orphans,” Carney says. You could outlive your spouse or even your children, find yourself living far from your family or wind up in the caretaker role yourself if a family member gets sick. Keep in mind that 69 percent of Americans will need long-term care, even though only 37 percent think they will, according to SeniorCare dot com

Plus, there’s no way around the natural physical and mental declines that come with age. “Everybody has to prepare to live as independently as possible,” Carney says. Here’s how:

1. Speak up.

Marak wishes she had talked more with her friends and colleagues about her decision not to become a mom early on. That may have given her a jump-start on anticipating various problems and developing solutions to growing older while childless. She advises younger generations to discuss their options openly with friends married and single, men and women ֖ before making a firm decision.

“We discuss our psychological issues with professionals. We discuss our money strategies with financial experts,” Marak says. “Why not talk openly about family concerns and what it means to have or not have children? So many of us go into it with blinders on.”

2. Act early.

How early you start planning for your future health depends partly on your current condition and your genes, says Bert Rahl, director of mental health services at the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging. “If your ancestry is that people die early, you have to plan sooner and faster,” he says.

But whether you come from a family of supercentenarians or people who have shorter life spans, it’s never too soon to save for long-term care, whether it’s by investing in a home, putting aside a stash for medical emergencies or “whatever you can do to have a nest egg,” Marak says. “Life is serious, especially when you get old. Don’t get to [a point] when you’re 60 and now you’re having to scramble to catch up.”

Still not motivated? “Everybody wants some control in [their] life,” Rahl says. “If you don’t plan, what you’re choosing to do is cede that control to somebody else - and the likelihood that they’re going to have your best interests at heart is a losing proposition.”

3. Make new friends and keep the old.

Your social connections can help with practical health care needs, like driving you to the doctor when you’re unable. But they also do something powerful: keep you alive, research suggests. In a 2012 study of over 2,100 adults age 50 and older, researchers found that the loneliest older adults were nearly twice as likely to die within six years than the least lonely regardless of their health behaviors or social status.

Connections can also help ward off depression, which affects nearly 20 percent of the 65-and-older population, according the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “One of the things that keeps people from being depressed is to be connected,” Rahl says. “The more social activities you have, the more friends, the more things you can do to keep your body and mind active ֖ that’s the best protection you have against mental illness.”

4. Appoint a proxy.

Who is your most trusted friend or relative? “Identify somebody to help you if you’re in a time of crisis, and revisit that periodically over your life,” Carney suggests. Make sure that person knows your Social Security number, where you keep your insurance card, which medications you take “the whole list of things somebody needs to know if they’re going to help you,” advises Dr. Robert Kane, director of the University of Minnesota֒s Center on Aging.

Before you start losing any cognitive capacities, consider designating that person as your durable power of attorney for health care, or the person who makes health care decisions for you when you’re no longer able.

If no one comes to mind, hire an attorney who specializes in elder care law by asking around for recommendations or searching online for highly rated professionals. Unlike your friends, they have a license to defend and are well-versed in elder care issues. Most of the time, Rahl’s found, “they’re trustworthy and will do a good job for you.”

5. Consider moving.

Marak is on a mission: “to create my life where I’m not transportation-dependent,” she says. She’s looking to move to a more walkable city, perhaps a college town where she’s surrounded by young people and can stay engaged with activities like mentoring. She also hopes her future community is filled with other like-minded older adults who can look out for one another. “I want to set up my life where I’m not living alone and isolated,” she says.

Adjusting your living situation so that you can stay connected to others and get to, say, the grocery store or doctor’s office is the right idea, says Carney, who cares for a group of nuns who live communally and has seen other adults create communities that act like “surrogate families,” she says. “Think: Where do you want to live? What’s most easy? How do you access things? How do you have a support system?”

6. Live well.

Marak is lucky: She’s always loved eating healthy foods and walking - two ways to stay as healthy as possible at all ages. “Some of the foods that we eat are really, really bad for the body,” she says. “That’s one of the major causes of chronic conditions and not exercising.”

Keeping your brain sharp is also critical if you want to be able to make informed decisions about your health care, Rahl says. He suggests doing activities that challenge you 0 math problems if numbers trip you up, or crossword puzzles if words aren’t your forte. “The old adage, ‘If you don’t use it, you lose it,’ is 100 percent correct,” he says.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Desperate Men

image: old man needs a job

Although certain types of jobs - such as working in a customer-service CALL CENTER - are more likely to be downers, the working environment tends to have a greater impact on mental health than the job description itself.

...we found that those respondents who were unemployed had significantly poorer mental health than those who were employed. However, the mental health of those who were unemployed was comparable or more often superior to those in jobs of the poorest psychosocial quality.  The current results therefore suggest that employment strategies seeking to promote positive outcomes for unemployed individuals need to also take account of job design and workplace policy.
- No Job Vs Lousy Job

Men at work
The age of austerity has transformed work, but what it means to be a man has not caught up

By Allison J, Pugh
December 15, 2015

When Gary Gilbert lost his job, it was devastating. A tradesman, he had joined his employers company only because he thought it offered a bit more security than endlessly chasing the next gig as a freelance operator, and that he could then provide a better future for his son. The layoff came without warning. “I was crushed,” he recalled. “Oh God. I’ve cried at night about it.”

While the layoff shattered his hopes and, Gary believes, was unwarranted, he refused to blame his employer. “I had no reason to take that job,” he explained. “I thought I was going to make a more stable environment, you know. And I was wrong, you know, but that - that was my fault. I shouldn’t have done it. I never should have let my guard down. I never should have put my livelihood in somebody else"s hands. It was the biggest mistake I ever made.”

Gar’s response is not untypical; recent research shows that Americans are more likely to blame themselves for job insecurity, even when it results from structural changes in the economy. I interviewed 80 people up and down the class ladder, and with varying experiences of job precariousness. I found that we do a lot to keep our strong feelings away from the employer, we shrug our shoulders in resignation, we talk about layoffs as new opportunities for growth, we even convince ourselves we are glad not to keep working there anyway. Most of all, we blame ourselves. And while that blame can be corrosive for both men and women, there is something unique in the scarring that results for men, who often see work as a primary measure of masculinity.

For working-class men, it is something of a crisis. There’s a lot of critical talk about the moral character of working-class men - generally conceived of as those with less than a college degree - and most of it revolves around work, reflecting some latent anxiety about who is shirking and who is carrying. We know they watch more television and do less childcare than working-class women, and are less likely than more affluent men to work long hours. Working-class men themselves value being “hard working” among the qualities they prize the most; for the white working-class men who march in the reserve army of US talk radio, working hard is highly prized, and deeply respected. It forms the bedrock of their outrage at those who, talk-radio culture likes to say, “refuse to work.” (For their part, black men value work but also talk about collective solidarity). Underneath the moral language on both sides is the notion of work as the arbiter of honour in the US.

Yet the landscape of jobs in the US has radically altered the configuration of who does what and for what benefit. In contrast to a few decades ago, a much higher percentage of women and people of colour are in the labour force: about 47 per cent of workers today are women, compared with 38 per cent in 1970, while the 36 per cent of non-white workers is almost double their proportion in 1980. Meanwhile, the proportion of men with full-time jobs has shrunk, from 80 per cent 45 years ago to just 66 per cent. The jobs men do have are also increasingly insecure at first due to shifts in types of work across the economy but, since 1996, likely due to the spread of layoffs as a management tactic.

Work might still be a moral measure then, but the distribution of work is increasingly uneven, with some men working too much and many men working too little, and both ensnared in conditions not entirely of their making. For men at the top, work colonises ever more of the days’ 24 hours, while those at the bottom, such as Gary, can face despair, hopelessness, even as was reported recently 0 declining life expectancy. And mens’ changed relationship to work bears implications for their changed relationships at home.

Masculinity has long been written in men’s relationship to work and, despite the onset of feminism, involved fathering, and the slacker, this is even truer today. In 1979, there was a certain rationality to the link between income and hours: the more you made, the less you worked. The bottom 20 per cent of earners were more likely than the top 20 per cent to work very long hours. By 2006, that relationship had reversed. Now, the more money men make, the more likely they are to put in what are often called killer hours. What is behind the reversal? Why would rich men work longer?

Scholars debate the causes. Some credit the long-hours, premium that professional-managerial class men earn meaning the extra money they get for near-constant availability and work - while others point to pay discrepancies within occupations acting as incentives for increased hours (men want to earn more than the guy in the next cubicle), and still others attribute the trend to anxieties about job insecurity that grew in the 1980s and 90s for white-collar workers.

But these arguments overlook the emotional resonance of work, its profound capacity to tell us something about ourselves. What it signals to men is a form of honourable masculinity, as expressed in the moral code of “work devotion,” demanding an enormous time investment and emotional commitment to the career or employer.

Men of the professional-managerial class are the big winners in this transformation of work. For them,"ёinsecurity" can look like “flexibility,” as they jump from company to company in search of a better match for their skills. Highly educated workers are less likely than blue-collar or low-level service workers to suffer job displacement, and when they do, they experience less of a pay loss.

Still, it is well to remember that even at the top the choices can often be strangely constrained: for most men, their only “choice” is either to work intensely or to get off the train. This all-or-nothing scenario has dramatic implications for men, women and families, impeding many men from being the fathers they want to be, funnelling out of promising careers many women who resist the extreme schedule and, for heterosexual couples, creating families that can explode over mismatched goals and possibilities, or conform to more traditional norms than the couple ever planned.

The transformation of work might have quickened the pace of the treadmill for professional men, but it has thrown other men off of it altogether. In the past 50 years, the number of men working full-time has fallen from 83 per cent to 66 per cent; between the 1970s and the ґ90s, the proportion of jobs lost by prime-age working men almost doubled. The change was even more dramatic for black men, partly because disproportionate numbers of them in the US were employed in the dwindling manufacturing sector, not to mention the disproportionate impact of incarceration policies. 

For those men who do work, pay has stagnated, with the purchasing power of the average hourly wage peaking more than 40 years ago in 1973.  These changes have accompanied the withering of unionised labour’s power, which the latest report puts at just 6.6 per cent of private-sector workers. Today, there are more than one and a half times as many contingent workers’ as there are union members in the US.

What does it mean to prize something to understand it as a primary measure of what it means to live a life of value - when it is becoming scarcer? How do men reconcile themselves to the likelihood of their own failure, particularly men with just a high-school degree, who are unemployed at more than three times the rate of college graduates? If work is what it means to be a man, what do you do when work disappears?

One option is to get angry. When I interviewed laid-off men for my recent book on job insecurity, their anger, or more often a wry bitterness, was impossible to forget. By and large, like Gary the laid-off tradesman, they were not angry at their employers.  At home, however, they sounded a different note. I have a very set opinion of relationships and how females handle them,ґ Gary told me, rather flatly. Itґs what Ive seen consistently throughout my life.Ғ On his third serious relationship, Gary talked about the hurt thatґs been caused to me by a lack of commitment on the part of other people, and he complained that Ғmarriage can be tossed out like a Pepsi can. In the winds of uncertainty, Garyђs anger at women keeps him grounded.

Most Americans might expect very little from their employers as one layoff survivor told me: ҖJust a paycheck and a certain amount of respect, I would say. They might shrug their shoulders about job insecurity as the inevitable cost of doing business in a globalised economy (even though some economists have found that layoffs usually end up costing firms rather than boosting stock prices or productivity). At home, however, workingѢclass men expect more of their intimate partners, and brittle yearning turns those expectations into betrayal if they fall short. Abandoned by both employer and wife, Gary aims his ire at just one of these.

It is wrong, however, to read this anger as simply the outrage of a dethroned king who has lost his prerogative. Working-class men such as Gary long for a time when they had rights to women
s loyalty, deference and caring labour, and when, in their view, they earned that right by virtue of the hard work they themselves contributed. The transformation of work dislodged their ability to put up their share of this bargain, one that netted them benefits, to be sure, but also involved years of their backbreaking labour. It is this morality tale that enables them to count themselves wronged, and lends such intensity to their concerns about those mythical emblems of entitlement: able-bodied people who refuse to work. What they want, they maintain, is the opportunity to work hard for their rightful place, to be a working-class hero.

Perhaps a more powerful response to the transformation of work is to change what counts as honourable masculinity. Some men I spoke with seemed to be pursuing a form of independenceђ. They owed employers as little as they themselves were owed which they maintained was not very much indeed ֖ and, at home, they cultivated a careful freedom, even when their feelings ran strong.

Stanley, an actor who had been laid off from several day jobs, was in the middle of a divorce. Bringing up the common trope of working on a marriageђ, he said that we need to redefine the term. Because the work changes,ђ he said. The work can be in letting go. Thatђs the right thing to do. So, yeah, thats all the work. Because I think bottling it up or denying it, if thatҒs what happens, its not going to work either.Ғ Independence dislodged men from domesticity, but although they sometimes celebrated it as freeing, their accounts often echoed with loneliness.

Others try to reshape masculinity not by shrinking obligation but by redirecting it towards the home. Clark had been laid off repeatedly, and was now struggling to bring in enough money by working part-time in retail and playing in a band on weekends.  He talked a lot about how he was raising his daughter making her home-cooked meals, meeting her at the bus, warning her about social media. ֑I wanted her to have a secure life, where she knew there was somebody there for her, he said.

The news is full of stories of involved fathers doing it differently than their own distant dads. To be sure, stay-at-home moms still outnumber stay-at-home dads by about 100 to one and, while fathers who live with their children have doubled their childcare time, they spend fewer hours with children than do mothers; meanwhile the percentage of non‑resident fathers has increased sharply since 1960, with more than a third of children now living without their dads. Still, many men today are finding purpose and meaning in a close relationship to their children.

When I talked with men who were active caregivers, they would often inveigh against those well-meaning but clumsy comments from others exclaiming over their extraordinary dedication; as Owen described them: ґWell-meaning people making comments like: Oh, gosh. Most men would have walked away.Ӕ Yadda yadda yadda. And that used to make me so mad I used to get offended by that.Œ Characterising what they do as a commendable choice is annoying because it implies that they might not have stepped up to do this refashioned masculine duty. It is precisely that it is not a choice, but instead part of their good character, their honourable soul, that makes active fatherhood an alternative heroic masculinity.

Nonetheless, most working‑class men such as Gary are trapped by a changing economy and an intransigent masculinity. Faced with changes that reduce the options for less-educated men, they have essentially three choices, none of them very likely. They can pursue more education than their family background or their school success has prepared them for. They can find a low-wage job in a high-growth sector, positions that are often considered womens work, such as a certified nursing assistant or retail cashier. Or they can take on more of the domestic labour at home, enabling their partners to take on more work to provide for the household. These are “choices” that either force them to be class pioneers or gender insurgents in their quest for a sustainable heroism; while both are laudable, we can hardly expect them of most men, and yet this is precisely the dilemma that faces men today.

What does it take to turn the anger of despairing men into violence? The grief and antagonism that erupt after every school shooting focus on either a prevailing gun culture or mental health problems, but masculinity is surely an indispensable component. Research has shown that the roots of these paroxysms of violence are in the toxic relationship between ґmasculinity threat Җ a mans individual perception that he cannot live up to the ideals of dominant masculinity - and a cultural betrayal, the sense that men are owed something they are no longer getting.

In the meantime, the code of work devotion is nothing but lucky for employers, part of the moral glue that keeps us all beholden to the job. But if theres a love affair happening with work, it is in large part unrequited. Employers have backed away from the old reciprocity norms, while affluent men labour ceaselessly to prove their mettle, and less advantaged men languish in despair. Is there any way we can respond?

It is worth pointing out that work precariousness is not inescapable; policies that encourage longer-term employment do exist in other countries (and some states). They are of three kinds. The first rewards employers who want to offer stable work, through such ideas as ґshort-time compensation, or the use of unemployment insurance to enable work-sharing instead of layoffs. The second builds stronger relationships between employers and workers, including incentives for workplace training, or an improved accountability framework holding employers responsible even for subcontracted or outsourced labour. The third makes it easier for workers to do their jobs well, such as paid parental leave or measures to improve unpredictable scheduling.

But there’s reason for skepticism about any policies that fall short of those that amplify labour’s voice, which in the US is now quite muted. Other rich countries with higher union density take steps to enable both employer flexibility and worker security, through income supports and retraining. In the US, better enforcement of labour law provisions that protect the right to organise would enable workers to slow down or impede layoffs, or to shape how they happen. A more subtle outcome would nonetheless be just as important: some scholars think that, just like the black church seems to do for black men, unions could remind more white working-class men to prize not just “hard work” but also solidarity and other values. 

While we can tackle the distribution and character of work, it is less clear whether we can dislodge its moral monopoly. Given radical economic shifts, perhaps more men will redefine the honourable, so that dominant masculinity reflects other traits and qualities, perhaps even contributions that more of them can reliably make. Still, we must not underestimate a core attribute about masculinity: it has long involved social norms that are widely understood and upheld but that only a few can actually live up to. Given that history, we cannot assume that the increased scarcity of a decent job will weaken the hold it has over honour, nor lead to masculinity’s remaking. That will require another seismic shift, this time in the cultural landscape.

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Posted by Elvis on 08/10/17 •
Section Dying America • Section Spiritual Diversions • Section Personal
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