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How and why we must save our infrastructure and our working class simultaneously

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The U.S. will have to produce 10 million new jobs just to get back to the unemployment levels of 2007. There's no sign that that is going to happen soon, so we're looking at an extended period of above 8% unemployment.

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The biggest impact is on men. Over the past few decades, men have lagged behind women in acquiring education and skills. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at age 22, 185 women have graduated from college for every 100 men who have done so. Furthermore, men are concentrated in industries where employment is declining (manufacturing) or highly cyclical (construction).

Nearly a fifth of all men between 25 and 54 did not have jobs, the highest figure since the labor bureau began counting in 1948. We are either at or about to reach a historical marker: for the first time there will be more women in the work force than men.

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Long-term unemployment is one of the most devastating experiences a person can endure -- equal, according to some measures, to the death of a spouse. Men who are unemployed for a significant amount of time are more likely to drink more, abuse their children more and suffer debilitating blows to their identity. Unemployed men are not exactly the most eligible mates. So in areas of high unemployment, marriage rates can crumble -- while the childbearing rates of unmarried, low-income women soar.

Recessions test social capital. If social bonds are strong, nations can be surprisingly resilient. If they are weak, the social, psychological, familial and emotional costs can be huge. The U.S. endured the Great Depression reasonably well because family bonds and social trust were high. Russia, on the other hand, was decimated by the post-Soviet economic turmoil because social trust was nonexistent. Today, with most of their jobs gone overseas, America's working class is in danger of descending into a comparable kind of severe dysfunction, which, if left untended, could lead to very unfortunate political developments: the very malleable Tea Party movement (aided, shaped, influenced and abetted by Fox News and various rightwing think tanks -- combined with the massive corporate funding of major political campaigns and most of the political attack ads on TV) could easily develop fascist proclivities.

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Several years after receiving my M.A. in social science (interdisciplinary studies) I was an instructor at S.F. State University for a year, but then went back to designing automated machinery, and then tech writing, in Silicon Valley. I've (more...)
 

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