There’s a problem with men in America. Not all men. Nor are men the problem. But there’s a problem nonetheless.
It shows itself in two ways. First, you have individuals like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, and Russell Simmons — among numerous others — whose behavior was made public in 2017. On the other hand, we have over 10 million men in the prime of life who aren’t in the workforce. They may be home playing video games. Or perhaps the problem is multi-faceted. But whatever the cause, it presents a real challenge for our society and our economy.
These problems feed each other. Disaffected, disengaged young men are fertile ground for delusional ideologies; just look at ISIS, al-Qaida, and Dylann Roof. When men held aloft as examples of success — like Weinstein, Lauer, and Simmons — behave badly, some on the outside believe they are entitled to do so as well by virtue of their chromosomes.
So how do we fix it? We can start with answering the question inherent in this divergence: What makes a “real man”?
A real man respects others, regardless of their position or sex. A real man works, to the extent his talents and capacities enable him to do so; he is never “too good” for a job. A real man accepts responsibility for his choices, be it positive or negative. In short, a real man is a good person.
Several years ago, before reporting on opiate addiction became the cause celebre of journalists, headlines shouted about the domestic violence crisis. They were absolutely right; it was a crisis. And Maine had an individual with a unique background in a position to do something about it: Paul LePage.
Gov. LePage used his (ironically-named) bully pulpit to call out men across our state. His message was simple: The majority of domestic abusers were men, and therefore men need to take the lead in ending it. These other challenges are no different.
The idea that fame or wealth makes someone entitled to assault women is heinous. Period, full stop. And it will take social pressure to reinforce that fact, starting with real men.
Yet when it comes to those 10 million missing from the workforce — and thus not counted in unemployment figures — pressure will not be enough. This past summer saw a record number of job openings: over 6 million. But there is a disconnect between those jobs and those without work. Some of it is the so-called “skills gap,” a chasm between the experience of individuals and the skills sought by employers.
The tide is turning to recognize again that a 4-year liberal arts degree may not be the best path for everyone. Once derided, vocational education is making a comeback, and with good reason; it is a path to a well-paying career. For example, the median annual earnings for a welder are about $40,000. If that welder then marries a Maine Community College System radiology graduate — earning over $38,000 in their first year on the job according to the state Department of Labor — that couple earns more than half of the families in Maine.
Leadership in that area is coming (again) from LePage, who is trying to find creative ways to enable students to pay for their education. Nationally, it comes from Mike Rowe (of “Dirty Jobs” fame), leading a charity focused on helping students prepare themselves for those jobs. And it comes from countless real men serving as examples each and every day.
The potential is astounding, even if you make pessimistic assumptions. If half of those 10 million men found 30 hour/week jobs at Maine’s new minimum wage — $10 starting Jan. 1 — then our GDP would grow by an additional half percent. That would help address our deficit problems, our impending Social Security insolvency, and countless other issues we are facing as a nation.
But to get there will take real men. Let’s hope we can find them in 2018.