The Boston Globe reported on Friday, December 5, 2008 that men are being hit by the current recession in much larger numbers than women. A lot of this has to do with the fact that the industries where men dominate – manufacturing, construction, and investment services – are the ones losing jobs the fastest. According to the Globe, there are 1.1 million fewer men working in the U.S. than a year ago at this time, but there are 12,000 more women working. “Losing Jobs in Unequal Numbers,” page A1.
While cuts are across industries, highly educated men are much more likely to bounce back, while lower-educated men will fare the worst. Wages and employment for lower-educated men have been declining for the past 30 years, and this current recession is expected to make an already bad problem much worse. Both family income and family structure are affected as low income men are left unable to support families they start – leaving more children vulnerable in single-mother, poor households.
A recent Future of Children journal and policy brief addressed this issue, arguing that many of society’s ills – delinquency and crime, school dropout, unemployment and nonwork, nonmarital births, and poverty are all associated disproportionately with young men – and offering two quite different approaches to helping poor men and their children.
Gordon Berlin proposes a carrot approach in his article – giving men an incentive to work by extending the earned income tax credit to supplement the earnings of all adult low-wage fulltime workers, regardless of whether they have children or are married, and based on individual income rather than joint or family income. The potential result is a system that actually rewards marriage of two low-income working partners, and thus encourages formation of two-parent, two-worker households – a boon for poor children.
Lawrence Mead goes in a different direction in his article and proposes a stick approach to employing low-income men. In particular, he looks to the child support and criminal justice systems as potential partners in a “help with hassle” approach. Essentially men with unpaid child support judgments and parolees leaving prison would be told to settle any debts they have to their children and get a job – or be required to join a work program where they would be closely supervised and, particularly in the case of prisoners, offered workplace instruction. If they failed to participate, they would face prison.
Neither of these proposals is inexpensive, and both could very well meet with resistance. Therefore the two authors suggest that rather than implementing nationwide, each should be tested in large-scale demonstrations – preferably using random assignment design – to see if in fact these interventions in the lives of low-income men make a difference and have a beneficial impact on their children.
Based on The Future of Children: The Next Generation of Antipoverty Policies, eds. Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill [link] and “Fighting Poverty through Incentives and Work Mandates for Young Men: A Future of Children Policy Brief,” by Ron Haskins.
For more in-depth discussion, see “Rewarding the Work of Individuals: A Counterintuitive Approach to Reducing Poverty and Strengthening Families,” by Gordon L. Berlin; “Toward a Mandatory Work Policy for Men,” by Lawrence M. Mead.