Director, Commonwealth Policy Center

Where are America’s men? Recent data suggests somewhere they’re likely not—the workplace. In a recent column for AEI, Nicholas Eberstadt reports on the US’s troubling unemployment figures for men, especially young men. Over the past decade, millions of young males have seemingly dropped out of the laborforce, with a high percentage having given up on finding full time work. The economic impact is so severe that Eberstadt calls it a “quiet catastrophe,” and notes that there seems to be a correlation between these men’s long term unemployment and their retreat from broader social life.

Eberstadt is not the first to notice this demographic crisis. A couple months ago, Erik Hurst, an economist from the University of Chicago, previewed some of his research on unemployed millennial males. What do they do all day? Hurst’s data has a clear answer: They play video games. Video gaming accounts for a massive portion of the average unemployed young man’s time, and the gaming is statistically more likely to be done under a parent’s roof than in a home with a significant other—even for 30 year olds.

This is nothing less than a cultural epidemic. The problem is not merely unemployment. It is a highly contemporary trend of delayed adulthood and personal stagnation. Far too many young men live off the naïve generosity of Mom and Dad, while spending their 20s and 30s pursuing the fantasies of digital hobbies. For many of these men, the time they spend isolated in individualistic escapism can cultivate pornography use, which only further stunts their psychological and spiritual development. These are males who live disconnected from meaningful community and a sense of purpose. Their social, professional, and sexual lives are stuck in adolescent patterns, even as they leave the years of college far behind.

What these millions of men need is compassion in the form of a rebuke. Instead of coddling, they need to be told by their parents and others that a life spent in front of the TV or laptop is not what they are meant for. Adulthood can be an intimidating thing, but its challenges and trials are far better than a decade spent immersed in the sludge of laziness and lust. Oliver Cromwell once said that the best way for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing. At this point in our national history, the cost of sitting at home doing nothing couldn’t be higher.