Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A nation of (male) slackers/“drop-outs”?

Tim Colebatch has twice* written in recent years, on the admittedly stark, and so highly newsworthy stats on non-labour force participation (which is more than just unemployment) among Australian men aged 25 to 44, aka men in the prime of their working life.

In a nutshell, the stats show depressingly high ex-unemployment NILF rates among this cohort (9% currently compared to 4% in 1978) (same URL). In contrast, the actual unemployment rate (which includes only (i) those actively looking for work, but who (ii) have not even done a single hour of work recently) are comparatively stable: 3% in both 1978 and 2006. (Measured against the broader unemployment (only) rate then, men aged 25 to 44 appear to be doing quite well).

A few observations can be made on the phenomenon that Tim observes.

First, and most surprising to me, is the apparent ease with which so many Xer men have been able to get, and stay, on the DSP. While DSP recipient- and NILF-rates are far from coterminous (only about 40%, or 114,000, of the 250,000 25 to 44-aged male NILFs are on the DSP) (same URL), that still leaves an awful lot of young(ish) men medically unable to work. I assume that the majority of these do not have conventional physical disabilities, yet AFAICT to get on the DSP by having a mental disability is “camel through the eye of a needle” stuff. For example, depression, however severe, appears to never per se warrant one being accepted as medically unable to work. OTOH, an episode of hospitalization for mental illness and/or drug psychosis seems to “count” disproportionately towards DSP eligibility. If nothing else, then, a fair number of Xers have been stunningly successful at playing the “squeaky wheel” game of bluff for access-to-scarce-resources, although probably more by circumstance than by intent.

Second is the point about actual generational coincidence. The 25 to 44 cohort in 2006 clearly subsumes the entirety of GenX, but it also importantly overlaps at either end. At the older end, it may sound pedantic of me insisting that the oldest Xer is currently 44-and-a-bit (and such a person should absolutely not be grouped with 44 year-olds generally), but such a difference is dramatically present in stats on DSP recipient rates among the 1961-born vs the 1962-born. At the younger end, although this time the generational borderline is much less precise, there is undoubtedly some encroachment by GenY into the 25 to 44 cohort in 2006. As an ersatz way of proving this, I suggest that the recent small improvement in the cohort’s labour-force participation rate (88% currently (penultimate URL) vs 86% in 2003), can be attributed to the statistically-ameliorating influence of mid-20s go-getters and self-described “team-players” (a term few if any Xers would use sincere-boastfully) like Ryan Heath.

Finally, although Tim Colebatch is careful not to draw any explicit link, the “drop-out” headline alone verges on culpable generational defamation. Funnily enough, the early 90s “slacker” was sufficiently yuppie/materialist to pre-empt being generally considered a cognate of the “drop-out” or the “dole bludger”. (The latter is a term that Tim obviously can’t use, because actual unemployment rates for the 25 to 44 cohort remain relatively (albeit puzzlingly so, IMO) low.) But ours is an age of masterly dog-whistling, and so it’s pretty clear what “drop-out” is intended to connote, for boomer ears, anyway.

In case you don’t get it, I’ll spell it out. The generation who invented the “dole bludger” (aka a person who lived in a “shack up the coast” in the 1970s) carry an odd sense of welfare entitlement. Observed in others (well GenX, anyway), welfare-reliance is generally bad, despite such reliance being entirely a result of the boomer-led new world order, aka economic fundamentalism. OTOH, particularly for themselves, boomers (although having never, of course, much *needed* welfare personally to date), see it as the icing on an already-abundant cake.

Put another way, money to surf and live (and buy a house in) in Byron Bay in the 70s is/was a legitimate entitlement, but money with which to slide into frugal middle-age in 2006 is too much cake (or even bread), and not enough icing, dah-ling. And hence the resolution of the paradox (at first glance) of DSP largesse for the much-maltreated cohort of GenX men: the DSP’s all icing (coz the "cake" underneath is necessarily fucked), too.

Welcome to the nuthouse of 2006, where “inside” it’s always Byron in the 1970s. Whether that means inside your head or inside your wallet, only you can tell.

* See also “[GenX men] the losers in fulltime jobs growth

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