Our Real Problem: One-Fifth of Men Are Sitting Idle

David Brooks thinks we need to spend on jobs, not health care
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted May 10, 2011 1:07 PM CDT
In this April 1 photo, an unemployed man looks at job listings at JobTrain in Menlo Park, Calif.   (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

(Newser) – America has a big problem: Its men aren’t working. “There are probably more idle men now than at any time since the Great Depression,” writes David Brooks of the New York Times, and the problem is structural. While there are a decent number of jobs for college grads, sectors like agriculture, manufacturing and energy aren’t employing as many people. “These men will find it hard to attract spouses,” Brooks worries. “Many will pick up habits that have a corrosive influence on those around them.”

Fixing this problem of the "missing fifth" will require a wide range of policies—tax code changes, apprenticeship programs, wage subsidies programs for people starting small businesses—and all those policies will cost money. But Washington is currently reducing discretionary spending, so it can accommodate rising health care costs. When either side tries to reduce those health care costs, the other goes “into demagogic overdrive,” decrying “death panels” or the “privatization” of Medicare. “We’re locking the nation’s wealth into the Medicare program,” complains Brooks, instead of “programs that spark reinvigoration.”

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