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The Missing Men in the American Workforce: Hunter Baker on Faith, Work & Economics

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Hunter Baker, Associate Professor of Political Science at Union University, lectured at Southeastern Seminary in 2016 on why work is so important to our lives and the economy. In his introduction, he highlighted the growing problem of the missing men in the American workforce.

Watch the full talk above. Below is a key excerpts.


On the missing men in the American workforce.

“Reports are beginning to pile up in the news about the missing men in the American workforce. Historically, it has been the overwhelming norm for American men to be employed throughout their working life. But National Public Radio recently reported that the 4.9% unemployment rate masks a disturbing phenomenon among American men of prime working age. As many as 10 million of them have simply vanished from the workforce; they’ve simply dropped out. They’re not working nor are they attempting to find work. As a result, they are not counted in the official employment statistics. They have managed to live with parents, with a spouse or with a girlfriend and spend their time possibly satisfied with playing video games or streaming television and movies.

“NPR also notes that most of these men are not using their time away from jobs to be primary care givers for their families (of course, that is work as well). Only 5 percent of these missing workers are serving as primary care givers.

“At the same time, and directly related to this phenomenon, is the fact that disability recipient payments continue to grow in number. Again from the National Public Radio report, we have a story that the Federal Government is now spending more on disability payments than it does on welfare and food stamps combined. Look at the billboards out on the highways; there appears to be big business for attorneys who promise clients that they can help them to begin to receive disability payments.

Life without work is not a good life.

“Now none of this is to say that there are not worthy recipients of these benefits (people who are injured, for instance). But it seems to be the case that the disability category is the frontier of this idea of a universal basic income… If you can’t get a middle class income from a high school degree, which was once absolutely feasible, there’s a reasonable chance that you’ll end up on disability. Now I want to read to you from the conclusion of the NPR investigation of the disability program. Now again, this is National Public Radio. This is not Fox News or National Review:

Disability has also become a de facto welfare program for people without a lot of education or job skills. But it wasn’t supposed to serve this purpose; it’s not a retraining program designed to get people back on their feet. Once people go on disability, they almost never go back to work. Fewer than 1 percent of those who were on the federal program for disabled workers at the beginning of 2011 have returned to the workforce since then.

“In most cases going on disability means you will not work — you will not get the meaning that people get from their work. Going on disability means, assuming that you rely only on those payments, you will be poor for the rest of your lives. That’s the deal, and it’s the deal that 14 million Americans signed up for.

“Now as you sit here listening to me begin the discussion this way, you might have the idea that I’m going to make out some kind of case against these individuals who are absorbing government benefits and adding to the tax burden or the debt burden.

“But that’s actually not the way I want to go with this today. Not at all. I think the people who are not working and who are surviving through family members, boyfriends, girlfriends or receiving governmental benefits are not properly seen as advantage-takers, cheating the rest of us out of our money. No, these are people who are losing out. They occupy a bad position in society, and a bad position many times spiritually.

“There may be a temptation to think of them as taking advantage of those who wake up each morning, head off to work and have somewhere to go. But the truth is they tend to live a marginal existence. We might call this person, ‘Basic Income Consumer Man,’ and ‘Basic Income Consumer Man’ falls well short of the Genesis vision of man as a working steward of the earth. The reality is life without work is not a good life.”

This article was originally published on Sept. 19, 2016.

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The L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture seeks to engage culture as salt and light, presenting the Christian faith and demonstrating its implications for all areas of human existence.

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