Unemployed Men and Endangered Species

These updates to two recent posts on The Next Phase blog seem dissimilar but they are really connected. Really. You’ll see. After all, if I could combine IBM and Mummified Hamburger, I can pull this off.

Godzilla Syndrome on the West Coast

Two things have happened since I published this post on two enormous oarfish washing ashore in California.

giant jellyfish washed ashoreA giant jellyfish, five feet in diameter, washed onto the coast of Tasmania, an island off Australia. In “Giant New Species of Jellyfish Hits Beach,” Brad Lendon of @CNN shows us pictures of the monster blob. Oddly enough, CNN used the exact same picture in another story that went out in November of last year entitled, “Jellyfish Taking Over Oceans, Experts Warn.”

The more recent story refers to the creature washing up “last month” but November was three months ago. Hmmm. Regardless, it’s still a pretty big mess of pink gelatin.

Meanwhile, on the East Coast, @Radiolab reports that “Big Fish Stories are Getting Smaller.” Robert Krulwich reports on how Lauren McClenachan compared photos taken on the same fishing dock over a period of 50 years in front of the same “hanging board” on the same Key West Wharf. Today’s fish stocks are significantly smaller than those caught in the Fifties.

Readers note in the Comments, however, that most of the really, really big fish in the earlier photos are Goliath Grouper. These used to be killed for trophies and because they took edible fish from fisherman and could not be landed with regular tackle. The Goliath Grouper is now recognized as a Critically Endangered Species by the World Conservation Union and fishing for them or having them in your possession has been banned since 1999. While still smaller than before, stocks of the Goliath Grouper are regaining strength.

frog in a pot of waterShifting Baseline Syndrome

But the gradually shrinking size of other species on the Hanging Board indicates what Daniel Pauly, a professor at the University of British Columbia, calls “shifting baseline syndrome.” This act of creeping amnesia prevents people from perceiving drastic changes over time. It’s kind of like the frog in the pot of gradually heating water who doesn’t realize he’s in trouble until it’s too late.

Professor Pauly says, “When things change in your lifetime, you may regret what has changed, but for your children, born 30 years later into a more diminished world, what they see at 5 becomes their new ‘normal,’ and so, over time, ‘normal’ is constantly being redefined to mean ‘less.’ And people who don’t believe that the past was so different from the present might have what could be called ‘change blindness blindness.’”

On to the related story . . .

Unemployment for Men Over 50 

In a series of 2013 posts on Unemployment Over 50, I discussed the trend of companies getting rid of older employees to save money. Most of these people were men, as men typically make more money than women. Only now are the experts beginning to recognize this as a problem.

Last Thursday, The Wall Street Journal published a story by Mark Peters and David Wessel called, “More Men in Prime Working Ages Don’t Have Jobs.” The authors note that, “The trend has been building for decades, according to government data. In the early 1970s, just 6% of American men ages 25 to 54 were without jobs. By late 2007, it was 13%. In 2009, during the worst of the recession, nearly 20% didn’t have jobs.” These are the prime working years when workers are either putting kids through college or, having gotten through the Tuition Tunnel, are supposed to be saving money for their own retirement.

Needless to say this is not happening for the 20% referenced above or for the even larger number of men in their fifties whom the government does not count because their benefits have expired, they have stopped looking for work, or both. BTW, the men in this story have college degrees and one has a Master’s Degree. The @WSJ authors note that, “Some are looking for jobs; many aren’t. Some had jobs that went overseas or were lost to technology. Some refuse to uproot for work because they are tied down by family needs or tethered to homes worth less than the mortgage. Some rely on government benefits. Others depend on working spouses.”

Where Have They Been?

It astonishes me that it has taken this long for this situation to alarm “policy makers and economists.” Where have they been since 2008? (Other than employed themselves, of course.) It’s easy to be unintentionally unaware of what less fortunate people are going through. Employed journalists don’t go to networking meetings, the Division of Employment Security, food banks, Goodwill, or other places where the long-term unemployed hang out. So it’s easy for the Goliath Earners and Big Salary guys to turn a blind eye to what the little fish are going through.

unemployed need not apply, unemployment over 50In the next generation, change blindness blindness may cause us to accept as “normal” the idea that full-time work only lasts until age 45 to 50 and after that it’s all downhill.

We may come to believe that people always survived on three-to-four minimum-wage jobs past the age of 55. We may think it’s OK for parents to try and raise kids, pay college tuition and save for retirement, all at the same time on salaries that are a fraction of what they used to be. We may see as a good thing that women become the primary wage earners and family heads—even as they make less money than men. It’s one thing to gain pay parity by having women make as much as men and something else altogether to do it by having men make as little as women.

Men in the prime working years are becoming the little fish. No one is protecting unemployed men—or any worker over the age of 50. The question is which species is more endangered.