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Decline of the Working Man

FRANCIS MCCLOSKEY lost his job at the Philadelphia city government’s information hotline in August 2009. Twenty months and more than 1,000 job applications later he is still out of work. He has attended scores of jobs fairs, sought help from job-search coaches and cold-called dozens of companies. This year he has been asked to only three interviews. Soon Mr McCloskey will join the growing ranks of “99ers”, Americans who have drawn jobless benefits for the maximum 99 weeks. His worry is plain: “I’m really drawing a blank on what I’ll do then.”

To William Bradley the labour market looks even bleaker. Despite having a degree in public administration and applying for “more jobs than I can count”, Mr Bradley has had only the odd stint as a telephone surveyor. His problem is that his degree was earned in prison, whence he was recently released. “My criminal record is the primary barrier to getting a job.”

One recent morning both men spent two hours at a weekly “jobs club” organised by the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, an advocacy group. Most who attend are men; most have low or middling skills; several have criminal records. The group helps with computer training, writing résumés and interview techniques. At the weekly meetings tips can be shared (“McDonalds is hiring 1,000 people”) and frustration vented (“If you can’t work, you start feeling less of a man”).

The project is at the sharp end of one of America’s biggest economic problems: the decline in work among men. Of all the big, rich Group of Seven economies, America has the lowest share of “prime age” males in work: just over 80% of those aged between 25 and 54 have a job. In the late 1960s 95% worked.

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