Manufacturing Jobs, Identity and Public Sympathy

When people talk about the loss of manufacturing jobs, they are really talking about the loss of old fashioned cultural norms, gender roles, and the forced confrontation with a lost sense of identity. When we hear about the opioid epidemic in the Midwest, we are talking about escaping from the pain and confusion of identity-loss.

On the one hand, we can feel some sympathy for the working class male who doesn’t know who he is without his job. On the other hand, we should expect those men to adjust and confront this new reality, take responsibility for their situation and make better choices in order to figure out how to cope with life. The factory jobs aren’t returning, and the market for booze and drugs isn’t going away.

People are quick to judge poor people of color for their choices, and those same people often reserve their sympathies for white men.

Alana Samuels, writing at The Atlantic, on a new study of economic impact on personal life:

“It’s no wonder, then, that the changes wrought by the disappearance of manufacturing jobs helped elevate the platform of Donald Trump, who won 67 percent of white workers without a college degree. Their malcontent comes not just from their economic struggles, but from the dramatic changes to their personal lives that the decline of manufacturing have created.

A new study by the economists David Autor of MIT, Gordon Hanson of the University of California at San Diego, and David Dorn of the University of Zurich, provides evidence that their economic struggles are directly responsible for many of their personal ones. The study finds that, as men’s economic prospects decline, they marry less frequently. Once, men had good earnings, especially when compared with women. But now these men don’t earn much more than women do, and so fewer people are getting married, and more children are being born out of wedlock. Children are much more likely to grow up in poverty in households headed by single mothers.”

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