Two economists debated the causes and potential solutions for the increase in American male unemployment at an Institute of Politics event Wednesday evening moderated by former University President Lawrence H. Summers.
Economists Nicholas Eberstadt ’76, the author of the book “Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis” and Jason Furman ’92, a Senior Fellow a the Peterson Institute for International Economics, headlined the event Though the two agreed that male unemployment had in fact increased in recent years, they held opposing views on the trend’s relative importance as well as potential ways to address it.
The economists agreed that the unemployment rate can be a misleading metric because it doesn’t account for people who don’t work or aren’t looking for work. Calling male unemployment America’s hidden crisis, Eberstadt called for a greater degree of entrepreneurship in America to increase employment. Furman challenged some of the assertions made by Eberstadt.
“It is less obviously a problem when people say that they don’t want to work and they don’t. So why do we regard this as being such a crisis?” Furman, a former Obama administration staffer who served under Summers in the White House National Economic Council, said.
Eberstadt, who worked at the American Enterprise Institute, argued that heightened male unemployment constituted a waste of human capital.
“The forces in underutilization of human potential, I think it is a kind of humanitarian crisis. I also think it is a kind of moral crisis for the United States because of such a large share of the prospective male population entirely out of the economy,” Eberstadt said.
Speaking about the increase in the employment of women with children since the 1960’s, Summers offered an explanation as to why the forum focused on male, rather than female, unemployment.
“In terms of how well our society is functioning and our economy is functioning, preparing jobs and providing jobs for people who wanted and needed them, perhaps there is an equal problem among women as among men and it’s just been made invisible by this other trend,” Summers said.
Christopher M. Rudnicki, a Kennedy School student, said the forum was a balanced perspective on an issue that he saw as a key point in the 2016 election. Rudnicki said he thinks globalization is only one of many reasons behind labor force participation trends.
“So you look at changes in technology over time, which has a similar effect on labor markets, you look at cultural changes, in reference to changing family dynamics and women entering the workforce,” Rudnicki said. “One of the takeaways, is that it’s hard to look at any one those and say this is the thing that has really led to men without work. I think it is a good, balanced perspective in light of a conversation that tends to be focused on the singular issue of trade a globalization.”