Men: "Not Just Any Job"

August 3, 2006

U.S. men are unemployed in record numbers no thanks to the loss of manufacturing jobs, according to a recent story in the New York Times. But more surprisingly, unlike their fathers in the 1950s and ’60s, they are unwilling to take jobs they consider beneath them. Actually, they would rather spend months, if not years, collecting disability, and living off their savings or their wives’ salaries, according to the Times.

Take, Alan Beggerow, for example. Beggerow, 53, has not worked for five years since the steel mill that employed him for three decades closed. Now he passes his time playing the piano and reading, living off his savings account while his wife Cathleen, 47, works.

Mr. Beggerow will not take a lesser job, he says, because of his bitter memories of earlier years at Northwestern Wire, particularly the 1980s, when the industry was in turmoil. A powerful man, over 6 feet and 200 pounds, he worked then as a warehouseman.

What got to him was not the work. It was the frequent furloughs, the uncertainty whether he would be recalled, the mandatory overtime and 50-hour weeks often imposed when he did return, the schedules that forced him to work every holiday except Christmas, and then, as rising seniority finally gave him some protection, a six-month strike in 1983 followed by a wage cut. His pay shrank to $13 an hour from $17, a loss he did not fully recover until those last three years.

“I was always thinking if there was some way I could get out of this, do something else,” Mr. Beggerow said. “What made me so upset was the insecurity of it all and the humiliation. I don’t want to take a job that would put me through that again.”

I don’t blame him. I know this article was meant to paint these guys like bums — just to show you how cold we are as a society. But I was thinking how easily employers could turn on you, and, gee, this guy has worked crazy hours for 30 years. Give him a break!

But, this snippet caught my eye, in terms of how unemployed men spend their downtime compared to women:

Even as more men are dropping out of the work force, more women are entering it. This change has occurred partly because employment has shrunk in industries where men predominated, like manufacturing, while fields where women are far more common, like teaching, health care and retailing, have grown. Today, about 73 percent of women between 30 and 54 have a job, compared with 45 percent in the mid-1960s, according to an analysis of Census data by researchers at Queens College. Many women without jobs are raising children at home, while men who are out of a job tend to be doing neither family work nor paid work.

I would feel funny doing nothing at home. I didn’t enjoy my last year at my old job because we had layoffs, low morale and there was a lot of pressure on those of us who were left. But I would never have quit if I didn’t have a baby and financial security or another job lined up.

For the three weeks I spent unemployed in 2000, I remember feeling guilty for doing anything other than peruse Craig’s List ads. How do the guys do it?

UPDATE: The Christian Science Monitor ran a story on how women are dinged in the workplace for their pregnancies. Some women are going so far as to seek help on how to hide their pregnancies.

A study released this month finds a nearly 400 percent increase in the past decade in lawsuits involving family responsibility discrimination, from 97 cases in 1996 to 481 last year. A majority of cases involve pregnancy, says Cynthia Calvert, deputy director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College of Law, which issued the report.

“Obviously things are better now,” Ms. Calvert says, citing the Family and Medical Leave Act as one gain. But she remains dismayed by the number of pregnancy discrimination cases. She is also surprised by how blatant they are.

“There are things being said in 2006 that you would have been shocked by 30 years ago,” she says. “Employers still say things like, ‘You’re being terminated because you need to take a lot of time off for your problem pregnancy and for maternity leave.’ One woman was told she would not be promoted because she got pregnant. We’re also finding men requesting leave and being terminated.” A chemical engineer won a $3 million verdict after her boss asked her, “Do you want to have babies or have a career here?”

Sounds like the rat race sucks for everyone. Sigh.