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|June 4 - June 10, 2009
• See Letters page
• Jim Hightower
Guys left behind
by Paul Danish
Fortunately for Mark Penn, the political guru who failed to get Hillary Clinton elected president last year, he still has a day job. It involves spotting little trends that over time have a big impact. He calls them micro-trends.
Last Monday, he wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal about one that could have an enormous impact on the future of American civilization and maybe world civilization. He calls it GLB, or “Guys Left Behind.”
It has nothing to do with the Rapture.
The GLB trend (or trends, really) is that while increasing numbers of women are getting on the “up” escalator — the one headed for wealth and power — increasing numbers of men are getting on the “down” one.
“Guys are simply falling behind these days,” Penn writes.
“We may not yet have the first woman president, but a look at what is happening with the next generation shows that women are succeeding in an ever-widening range of areas, while there is a statistically significant and growing group of guys who are just not going to make it,” he says.
Men have long outstripped women “in most of the downers of life,” he says. They have a 15-to-one lead in incarceration, a nearly two-to-one lead in fatal traffic accidents and death from heart disease and higher rates of alcoholism and drug abuse. But a couple of recent trends are more important.
The first one is unemployment rates during the current recession.
Historically, women have been more likely than men to lose their jobs during economic downturns. Not this time.
“In December 2007, before the current economic crisis took hold, the unemployment rates for men and women were roughly equal, but this time its men who are being laid off in greater numbers,” Penn says.
“The unemployment rate surged from 4.4 percent to 7.2 percent for men, but from 4.3 percent to only 5.9 percent for women,” he says.
It’s no secret that the jobs that are disappearing in this bust are in those sectors of the economy that are still dominated by men — construction and auto-making, for instance. Penn doesn’t mention it, but this implies women are no longer “the reserve labor force,” the one that enters the workplace during booms and leaves it during busts. Quite the opposite, in fact; at the moment they’re the more valued one.
Men still earn more than women, Penn says, but this disparity is most pronounced among the very rich and among the oldest generations. Among people in their 20s, the pay gap is closing. Income tax filings show that, at least in big cities, women in their 20s are earning as much as men.
The second trend is college graduation rates. Women are currently earning nearly 60 percent of the college degrees; men are getting barely 40 percent. This is “a complete reversal of the past,” Penn says. “When it comes to earning what you learn, guys aren’t learning what they need to,” he says.
“The college gap could be the one that spells the most serious problem for guys,” he adds, “and can over time be at the root of a lot of increased frustration and even crime.”
No kidding. If there is one certainty in an uncertain world, it is that a $12-trillion economy and a 5,000 warhead nuclear arsenal are not going to be handed over to a bunch of college dropouts. If fewer and fewer men bother to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to run the country, more and more women will end up running it.
What’s behind this trend? Penn thinks “the lifestyles and habits that men evolved in more primitive times may not be working so well for them in the information age.”
“In every age from the caves right on through the second World War, it worked for men to take big risks, have short attention spans and be driven by ego,” he says. “These days, those things are more likely to get in the way of doing a good job. Hunting wild boar and hunting through Wikipedia require a different set of skills.”
He adds that the GLB trend isn’t just an American one, either. “In developing countries like India, women are generally seen as better employees, compared to men who are considered hard to train, unwilling to listen and likely to quit.”
The implications of the trends Penn is describing suggest a fundamental shift in wealth, power and influence in society from one sex to another is under way. That’s not a micro-tend. It’s a seismic shift.
Chances are the “guys left behind” aren’t going to handle it well. One additional micro-trend Penn spotted is that men constituted 47 percent of the voters in the 2008 election. That suggests rising political alienation among Guys Left Behind — and that in turn should raise red flags.
“Frustration and crime” could be the least of it. If I were Penn, I’d start looking for micro-trends involving the rise of neo-fascism and Taliban-style Islam among guys left behind.
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