Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Philadelphia's lost generation

Will these men ever find jobs again in their lifetime?

Wallace is part of a growing "lost generation" of Philadelphia men in their 30s, 40s and 50s - lacking college degrees and watching the factory jobs of their youth vanish.

Nationally, labor statistics show that one of five American men in their prime years - age 25 to 54 - does not go to work, the highest it's been since record-keeping started after World War II, and also worse than other major Western economies. As recently as the 1960s, only one in 20 men in that group didn't have a job.

And most experts agree that the problem is more pronounced in Philadelphia than elsewhere, thanks to the early death of manufacturing here and the high levels of minorities - who historically have higher jobless rates - and of ex-convicts.

Now, middle-aged men like Wallace - who worked in a long-gone steel foundry after he graduated from Dobbins Tech, and later worked his way up from the mailroom at the law firm - are no longer wondering when they will find work again, but whether they ever will.

The scary part is that some experts say that those fears are not irrational.

No, it's not irrational at all. What is irrational, though, is leaders of both parties who sit on their pathetic rear ends and do nothing to help people like Frank Wallace, an industrious man, just 46, desperately trying to re-enter the job market. As for the Republicans, they were elected in 2010 on a promise to create jobs, yet have yet to undertake one initiative to address the issue. The Democrats in Washington did not do enough when they had the momentum in 2009, and locally their big idea seems to be creating another commission. Weak.  We need massive re-training programs for unemployed middle-age workers, a new Works Progress Administration, and a new tax policy that rewards employers who create jobs rather than pocketing their record profits.

Can we afford it?

America can't afford not to.