mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Marriage in America
The Great Marriage Debate Takes a Turn

Could some sort of bipartisan consensus emerge over the debate about marriage and inequality in America? In The Federalist, Brad Wilcox reviews Andrew Cherlin’s Labor’s Love Lost: The Rise and Fall of the Working-Class Family in America. Wilcox concludes, based on the evidence offered in the book, that conservative and progressive explanations for declining marriage rates and family instability are both right. Conservatives are right that changing norms and mores have eroded marriage, but progressives are right that economic shifts have too:

Without access to decent-paying, stable jobs since the 1970s, working-class men are much less likely to be seen as attractive candidates for marriage, to act in ways that make them attractive candidates for marriage, and to stay married. So, score one for the Progressive view that “it’s the economy, stupid.” […]

Without the shifts in mores ushered in by these revolutions, the United States might have seen a decline in marriage rates in the last half-century, but it would not have seen the dramatic increase in family instability and single parenthood among the working class that it did. The Great Depression is instructive here, as Cherlin notes: “Despite a terrible job market in the 1930s, there was no meaningful rise in nonmarital childbearing because cultural norms had not changed.” So America’s family problem is not just about money, it’s about changes in mores that have weakened the links between lifelong marriage and parenthood.

Wilcox’s piece can be read alongside a recent report in the NYT entitled “The Vanishing Male Worker: How America Fell Behind.” That article looks at the rise of “prime-age” men without jobs, jumping off a statistic showing that the share of jobless men ages 25–54 is three times higher now than it was in the 1960s. According to the piece, there are a mix of reasons for this. Some are choosing not to work because they can live off of federal benefits or because they are unmarried or childless, and so feel less pressure to provide. Others want jobs but can’t get them. That could be because the jobs don’t exist: There are 10 million jobless prime-age men and only 4.8 million job openings for all ages and genders. What jobs there are may be out of reach due to their low education levels or criminal records (34 percent of the men in question said they had criminal records). Still another factor is the “cost of working”: the money you need in order to enter the workforce in the first place, to pay for child-care or a degree or other certification.

In other words, the NYT piece shows, like Wilcox’s review, a world in which there is room for both sides to be right about different aspects of the problem. Read both to get a better picture of the challenges facing working-class men, and the prospects for a bipartisan program to tackle them.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Charles Hurst

    Would you like to know why we have this chaos? Because half of Generation X
    and most of Y and almost all of Z have become completely amoral. Nice
    work Mr. Progressive? This is your end result of moral relativism.

    You know what the problem with youth is today? They have no morals. Anyone really
    want to try to debate that for most of them. Not all of them, but most. I don’t
    have to prove my point. The Jersey Shore proves it for me. Art reflects life.
    And most of the American youth are vile and lazy. Of course they favor all
    deviant behavior. Of course they favor gay marriage as if it is the same as
    traditional marriage. They are pro anything deviant. They have no conception of
    family or values. And why is this? Because the Progressive intellect raised
    them that way.

    Want to keep arguing Mr. Progressive. Keep telling me it isn’t because of your
    agenda? You raised youth, the millennial generation, to accept all. That morals
    are relative. The Nietzsche philosophy of nothing is my fault or
    responsibility. The result? Regular school shootings. And even with that you
    just blame the guns. Really? What caused the mindset behind the pulling of the
    trigger? And by the way, the Knock Out game doesn’t use a gun. What sort of
    mindset would, for fun mind you, walk up and beat an innocent bystander? You’re
    youth, Mr. Progressive. The youth that voted Barry into office. Of course they
    did. Barry said he would give them entitlements. You raised them to be lazy. To
    achieve without effort, and if they didn’t achieve how it was due to a variety
    of social disorders out of their control and not their responsibility.

    I predicted in my own fiction that we would collapse as a society. Part of the
    reason is based on youth. You have a school system that does not compete with
    the rest of the world. You have a youth where half are already grossly
    overweight by age twenty. You have a youth that thinks it is swell to play the
    Knock Out game. That lives at home until thirty. And they will keep voting in
    those that support their self induced entitlement mentality. So you will not
    survive as a nation. And it may not even be reversible at this point. So expect
    the worst in the future Mr. Progressive. And when they finally come through
    your doors, remember.

    You created them.

    Charles Hurst. Author of THE SECOND FALL. An offbeat story of Armageddon.
    And creator of THE RUNNINGWOLF EZINE.

    • FriendlyGoat

      “I predicted in my own fiction”—-you say. Indeed, you are even living in your fiction.

  • Andrew Allison

    This seems like a rather shallow analysis. While there’s more than a little evidence that single-parenting and welfare dependency have a lot to do with income inequality, so does the hollowing out of the middle class. Shouldn’t we be looking at both?

    • Corlyss

      Oh, but why bother to look at everything that contributes when we can blame our favorite whipping boys (whoever those are)? The media will never ever get on board with life-style as a problem.

      • Andrew Allison

        It’s not just life-style; the middle class is being destroyed by government policies, thereby increasing apparent inequality.

        • FriendlyGoat

          Indeed they are—–the middle class is being destroyed by high-end tax cuts.

          • MartyH

            Your assumption is that the worker you hire produces nothing of value. Is a complete and total deadweight. .That, by hiring this person, corporate profits drop by the exact same amount as the salary. Your assumption that employees produce no value is ludicrous.

            We’ve been over this before, but here is the math again:

            Let’s start with your example: Assume that a company has $100K in profits at a 50% tax rate. Owner gets $50K; government gets $50K. Owner hires a $40K deadweight employee. Profit is now now $60K; owner gets $30K, government gets $30K. The owner is worse off. That’s why he doesn’t hire-the fact that the government gets less money also is irrelevant to the owner. The point of hiring an employee is to increase your profits, and so that $40K employee is not getting hired.

            Now assume that the tax rate is 25%; without the employee, the owner takes home $75K and the government gets $25K. The employee is hired for $40K. Profit is now $60K. The owner keeps $45K, and the government gets $15K. Again, the owner is worse off than before the hire.

            Finally, assume that the employee creates $60K in value for the owner. The company’s profits go from $100K to $120K. At a 50% tax rate the owner’s profits are now $60K with the productive employee; at 25% the profits are $90K. In both cases the owner’s profit goes up, but with lower taxes the owner’s profit is higher. Meaning that the owner has more margin in case the employee does not work out, or is less profitable than expected. Lower tax rates make owners more likely to incur the costs and risks of hiring productive employees than higher tax rates do.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Indeed we HAVE been over this before. It is NOT about which scenario the owner “prefers”. It is not about your presumption that my example employees are deadweight and yours are somehow not. It is NOT about how much money the owner can take out of the business. National policy which will benefit employees as a whole is about how citizens through taxes can discourage owners FROM taking money out of the business.

            If your side’s presumption about taxes and employment was true—–given the many tax cuts we have done—–we would not be reading articles about the share of jobless men aged 25-54 being three times what it was in the 1960s.

          • MartyH

            I am not presuming that the employees are deadweight: it is exactly what your statement “The decision to hire a $40,000 worker into a profitable company taxed at
            50% costs $20,000 to the bottom line. The same decision in a 25% tax
            environment costs $30,000 to the bottom line” means. It is a mathematical tautology. The only case where that statement of your is true is when the profits drop by exactly the same amount as the employee’s compensation-the very definition of a deadweight. Your statement is not true if the employee makes any contribution at all-even if that contribution is less than his compensation. The fact that you do not understand this means that you have a tenuous grasp on basic mathematics. Here’s a simple proof:

            Let PTPBH = Pretax Profit Before Hire
            Let PTPAH = Pretax Profit After Hire
            Let T = the tax rate
            Let NPBH = Net Profit After Hire = (1-T)*PTPBH
            Let NPAH = Net Profit After Hire = (1-T)*PTPAH
            Let TBH = Tax Before Hire = T*PBH
            Let TAH = Tax After Hire = T*PAH
            Let COH = Cost of Hire

            Now let’s put your statement into math terms: NPBH-NPAH = (1-T)*COH


            (1-T)*PTPBH-(1-T)PTPAH= (1-T)*COH

            Cancelling the common (1-T) factor:

            PTPBH – PTPAH =COH

            Rearranging terms:

            PTPAH = PTPBH – COH

            Translating back into English: the pre-tax profit after the hire equals the pretax profit before the hire minus the cost of the hire. Your employee is by definition deadweight. QED.

            Again, the fact that you can’t grasp this basic implication of your statement leads me to doubt your numeracy. Combine that with a complete misunderstanding of what motivates corporate owners and thus drives the economy-“It is NOT about how much money that owners can take out of the business” and you end up with bizarro world where the only reason unemployment is high is because taxes are too low. Tell that to Spain-corporate rates there are 30% and unemployment is almost as high-almost 24%.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Very impressive. You have made a comment look like a math textbook to prove in your final line that a company making $100,000 pretax will be making $60,000 pretax after it hires a $40,000 employee if no other factors change. OF COURSE we presume a new employee will add something to the productivity of the business and that the original $100,000 will be higher after the hire—–but we don’t know how much. Zero if the person is deadweight, maybe another $200,000 if the guy is a star salesperson. None of that changes the fact that the $40,000 of payroll produces a $20,000 tax savings at 50% taxation and only a $10,000 tax savings at 25%.

          • MartyH

            “(His productivity is another matter)” is not a parenthetical. It’s the whole point of hiring an employee. Companies don’t try to minimize taxes-they try to maximize after tax profits. There’s a usually big difference between the two that you don’t seem to grasp.

            The main reason to hire an employee is if the owner is better off after the hire-net of taxes-than before a hire. (Exceptions would be organizations where profitability is not the immediate goal-an early phase startup, for example. But for the vast majority of businesses profitability is the goal.)

            Until an employee’s output covers his costs, the owner is worse off. Now your point-that the government bears a greater share of this cost during this underwater phase under a higher tax regime than a lower tax one- is correct. But the owner is always worse off under any tax scheme if the employee generates less in profits than he is paid. The fact that he is less bad off under a higher tax rate than under a low tax rate is like saying, “the beatings will continue until morale improves.”

            When the employee is actually productive (again, the only reason to hire) is when tax rates matter. If my hurdle to hire is a $10K net profit per employee, then under a 50% tax regime any employee needs to generate $20K in profits. Otherwise the job does not exist. Under a 25% tax regime any employee needs to only generate $13.33K in profits to meet the criteria.

            I’ve proven that you are mistaken with concrete examples and symbolic logic. So here’s my challenge to you: find a condition under which a profitable employer, by making a hire, has a larger net profit under a 50% tax regime than a 25% tax regime.

            Again, the key point that you fail to grasp is: the only reason an an employer hires is if he is more profitable after the hire than before it. Once you understand that, the argument for why lower tax rates encourages jobs becomes quite obvious.

          • FriendlyGoat

            And what you fail to grasp is that I am always arguing for what will benefit EMPLOYEES as a group of people, not EMPLOYERS as a group of people. The employers all did just fine back when there were no S-Corps, the federal corporate rate was 48% and the personal rates ran to 70%. They not only did fine, they were every bit as motivated to innovate and do business as at any time since. They did not just refuse to operate for lack of a better profit opportunity, nor did they wither and die from tax strangulation. Ever since we made profound changes to that situation, starting in 1978, the employer/trader class has been getting much more wealthy and the employee class has stagnated. This is the problem for the employee class —-the majority of Americans—which never gets cured by the Republican “prescription” of more tax cuts.

            You are challenging me to find a situation where a profitable company will make more after-tax profit at 50% taxation than at 25%——without ever listening to THE POINT, which is that we, the society, should not be joining the owners in worshiping an ever-increasing amount of after-tax profit. We do not want every company running as lean as it possibly can. We want people retained in jobs which can support families and thereby avoid the many, many social ills which accompany unemployment and under-employment.

            I worked for a good privately-owned manufacturer in the 1970s which hired people to meet customer demand, to try to lead innovation in our industry AND to be a good corporate citizen in the small community. The owners of that place actually maintained “some” deadwood and they were VERY PROUD of the jobs they were privileged to provide, including especially some of the folks who weren’t the world’s best but who needed and appreciated their jobs. The company always made money, heavily taxed, which helped them decide to hire people. buy fixed assets, and run generous benefit plans to avoid the tax. They were privately held and did not have to impress anybody with their numbers. I was their young accountant, and their attitude as older guys impressed me. In later years I have come to realize how the taxes “helped” them make the decisions they made. We’re missing this spirit in America.

          • MartyH

            Ah, yes-you long for the halcyon days of the 1970s-when the terms “misery index” and “stagflation” were coined; when the average unemployment for the decade was 6.2%-higher than today’s current 5.8%; when the prime interest rate was in the teens; when inflation averaged over 7% (without compounding); and when the tax code was so convoluted that people actively sought money losing investments to avoid paying taxes. Let’s see what the policy prescriptions you recommend had brought us after the decade you give as a shining example of a properly managed economy:

            1970 unemployment: 4.9% 1980 unemployment: 7.1% and climbing to 9.7% by 1982
            1970 inflation: 5.7% 1980 inflation: 13.5%
            1970 highest prime interest rate: 8.5% 1980 highest prime interest rate: 21.5%

            Most people would agree that the economically destructive policies of the Seventies belong in the past. Again, on the single measure that we started talking about-employment-today is demonstrably better than in the 1970s that you use as the nirvana of employment.

          • FriendlyGoat

            You forget that the Fed went through an anti-inflation tightening in those years but has been printing trillions recently as well as robbing every bank saver in USA for five years—-just to right the ship from collapse..

            We’re never going to agree on this, Marty. I hope you will at some point take a quiet moment to ask yourself whether we should care that family life is increasingly impossible for young people of modest-to-average education. The tax-cut economy is not making a livable place for them. I know one of the reasons why, and argumentative as you are—–just for the hell of it (as they say)—–you do too. Bye.

          • Kevin

            That’s not at all how the decision to hire extra labor actually goes. We look at the margin and ROI the additional employees will generate. If the fully loaded cost of an employee is $50K and he will generate an addition $100 K in margins, we hirre. If it is <$0, we don't hire.

            Tax rates come into it in a few ways. As payroll taxes rise the fully loaded cost of labor goes up and the margin an employee needs to produce to justify their hire goes up. As corporate taxes (or individual rates for sub chapter S firms) go up, we become more risk averse where the payoff to an additional employee is uncertain because the rewards for success go down while the penalty for failure remains largely the same. To the extent we rely on retained earnings to finance growth, higher taxes reduce our ability to amass the necessary capital to invest in hiring employees where the lead time between their hire date and the date the produce revenue to cover their salary increases. It works similarly for our investors or banks loaning us money. – if the return on their investment is lower due to lower taxes we have a harder time getting equity or loans to finance expansion, especially where the payoff in revenue is either uncertain or in the distant future.

            The idea that we would hire more people if the taxes on earnings went up is pretty ludicrous – what we might do is spend more money on various benefits for owner/managers as that is one form of income for them that is not taxed. We would also probably retain more earnings offshore or increase offshore investments to avoid taxation.

          • FriendlyGoat

            OF COURSE, Kevin, effective taxation has to prevent you from merely showering more benefits on already-highly-compensated employees and from playing offshore tricks.

            (Many people do not know, for instance, that the original 401(k) tax law LIMITED the amount of money highly compensated employees could shelter with 401(k) to the percentage voluntarily elected by the non-highly-compensated employees. This is the only real reason employers ever offered a match. Good ole tax law.)

  • Corlyss

    “Could some sort of bipartisan consensus emerge over the debate about marriage and inequality in America?”

    Yes, but I doubt “individual responsibility” will suddenly make a comeback on the left.

    “What we are willing to do we know doesn’t work; what we know works we are unwilling to do.” – Charles Murray, who has examined this problem extensively. He has documented the inexorable rise of the pathology of the underclass thru the ranks to contaminate the middle class with its destructive impact over the decades. Middle class values are strong in the wealthy and upper class, but I imagine they too will fall victim to the contagion. He urges the latter to “preach what they practice” to encourage the rest of society emulate them. But seriously, why would they want the competition? They got a good gig goin’. Why wouldn’t they keep the riff-raff out, like they do with their gated communities?

    • FriendlyGoat

      The upper class actually has upper-class values, not middle-class values.

      • Corlyss

        Factually incorrect.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    The problem isn’t male joblessness, or changes in culture. The decline in the marriage rate began with Johnson’s great society welfare programs, which paid women with dependent children entire expenses for food, housing, medical care, as well as cash for other expenses. “You get more of what you pay for, and less of what you tax.” The leftist welfare programs are a direct attack on marriage, and the children spawned by this system grow up to have poor ethical and moral values and fill our jails and prisons. There is a reason why being a Bastard has negative connotations throughout history.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service