A nation without strong and capable men is a nation in serious trouble.
Unfortunately, there’s reason to worry about boys and men today. This fact has serious consequences for our families, communities and nation.
My office compiled research on how men are performing in their vital role as providers. We published our findings for Labor Day in a report titled “The State of the Working (And Non-Working) Man.” The verdict? American men are doing poorly, from the classroom to the workforce and beyond.
For one, men’s ability to provide a middle-class lifestyle for their families has fallen. In 1985, it took just 40 weeks of median male wages to cover food, housing, healthcare, transportation and education expenses for a family of four. In 2022, it took 62 weeks of median male wages to do the same. Simply put, this means countless working-class men are struggling to support their families and achieve the American Dream.
As deindustrialization devastated communities and destroyed high-quality jobs, millions of men left the workforce. The Biden administration touts a record-low unemployment rate. But if we factor in those who are not even looking for jobs, the share of men without work is as large today as it was in the throes of the Great Depression.
When work disappeared, problems worsened in other aspects of men’s lives. Fewer men are married or committed fathers than they used to be. Many are addicted to video games, alcohol, drugs, gambling, pornography or some combination. Many are also depressed, anxious, and on the edge of complete despair, as shown by the 38,000 who took their own lives last year — the highest male suicide rate in history.
Who, or what, is to blame for this carnage? The answer is complicated, but a few main culprits are worth highlighting: deindustrialization and open borders, which have decreased the availability of good-paying jobs for American men; the “college-for-all” bias in our education system, which has left behind millions of young men who are not on the path to earn a four-year degree; the lack of work requirements for welfare programs like Section 8 housing vouchers and Social Security Disability Insurance, which encourages idleness; and the 1960s-era social movements and technological changes that undercut the strong families and cultural values that prepared past generations of men for success.
Solving these problems won’t be easy. It will take decades of hard work from institutions at every level of society, not to mention from men themselves, who bear the ultimate responsibility for their behavior. Nevertheless, Congress can do several things to get recovery started.
One next step is to rebuild America’s decaying industrial base, protect American companies from unfair foreign competition, and restrict low-skilled immigration, especially illegal immigration. This will bring the American Dream back into reach for millions of working-class and low-income men, raising hopes and standards of living along the way.
We can also reform the education system so that a greater share of federal education funding goes to vocational and technical training programs. Currently, these programs receive a pitiful $20 billion per year, compared to colleges’ and universities’ $175 billion. This is not the case in the rest of the developed world, and it shouldn’t be the case in America, either.
Finally, Congress should pass pro-work and pro-family reforms to reconnect drifting men with formative institutions. This means adding work requirements to easily abused welfare programs. It also means eliminating marriage penalties, expanding the Child Tax Credit for working families, guaranteeing paid family leave by allowing new parents to “pull forward” Social Security benefits, and changing child care benefits and tax-advantaged retirement saving plans so they don’t place married couples at a disadvantage if one parent decides to stay at home.
This seems like a lot to ask given the partisan paralysis in Washington. But America must be strong to face the challenges of the 21st century, and America cannot be strong without strong husbands, fathers, workers and leaders. The sooner we recreate the conditions for men to thrive, the better the future will be for all of us.