As I walk the streets of downtown Everett, Wash., I invariably encounter single males standing about or trudging along the sidewalks, often with all their worldly possessions packed into bags or carts. Such a waste, I think. So many men with nothing to do.
The situation is not unique to Everett, of course. In every city the sorry scene I describe is replicated. On occasion the media report that local governments are trying this or that remedy to combat rising homelessness, which affects women as well as men. But the picture does not change; it may be worsening.
Nor is the problem reserved to America. Europe also has its share of idle masses, though on a much lesser scale than here. Moreover, those unable or unwilling to find work have a far more generous social safety net to soften the impacts of chronic unemployment.
Still, the following chart indicates the troubling trend among several nation-states:
The figure shows us the percentage of working-age males to participate in the workforce. The green diamond shapes tell us the rate in 1990; the blue columns represent the numbers in 2014.
The United States has the third lowest participation percentage, while Italy appears to have suffered the largest decline over the period. Only Germany has improved their situation.
Some suggest, including Harvard’s Larry Summers, that we are in the midst of a “secular stagnation,” marked by low economic output and persistent un- and underemployment. The capitalist system, which has indeed yielded better lives for millions, has nevertheless failed to provide the basic necessities to millions more. Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the 21st Century, agrees, adding that return on capital investment is and will continue to be greater than GDP growth.
Politics reflects, sooner or later, economic and social conditions. Trump, Brexit, and the rise of far-right parties in Europe may be only the beginning of what may be a wholesale unraveling of the established neoliberal order. Polarization reigns. Unity can only be a distant hope.
Discouraged, am I.
I neglected to provide the source for the above graphic. Here ’tis.