The Disappearing American?

Victor Davis Hanson
American Greatness

“Help wanted” and “Now hiring” signs are everywhere. Flights, construction projects, and healthcare services are delayed—or unavailable—due to labor shortages.

Hourly and monthly wages spiral. There is a growing disequilibrium between the number of available jobs and the declining pool of workers needed to fill them.

What is going on?

During the nearly two-year-long COVID shutdown and economic downturn, firms cut costs by laying off millions of employees.

As a result, some in their early- or mid-60s simply retired early and never came back to work.

Federal and state governments also vastly expanded financial support to the unemployed. Other workers figured they would not make all that much more by working and so are staying home on government checks.

Still other former full-time employees became used to the new, more leisurely lifestyle and are loath to return to a full 40-hour work week.

Employers also are now convinced that a hard recession is on the early 2023 horizon when the trillions of dollars of newly printed money run out.  Many are willing to put up with worker shortages now, rather than hire too many employees only to have them idle when consumer demand soon crashes.

Still other workers fear yet another COVID pandemic and are not eager to return to daily contact with the public.

The government has no idea how Americans remain sick with the mysterious “long COVID” chronic aftermath of the infectious phase of the disease.

Well over 100 million Americans have likely had COVID. An estimated 10-30 percent do not recover for months—or even years.

So, millions of COVID long haulers remain either unable to work or can only work part-time.

Yet no one yet has fully calibrated the effect of newly disabled millions on the American economy.

Add up all these dark clouds and America is experiencing a perfect storm, in which only 61 percent of the able workforce is currently officially employed.

Unfortunately, there are also even longer-term, structural labor problems for the U.S. economy that make it unlikely a new larger generation of workers will soon surge into the labor force. And for now, Silicon Valley has not produced its long promised artificially intelligent robots that would allow machines to do much of the work of people.

True, there are more potential parents than ever before. And the American population has soared to over 330 million.

But our population is radically leveling off.

In just 14 years the fertility rate has crashed from 2.12 to 1.64—meaning that both citizens and resident aliens in America are not replacing themselves.

While past demographic momentum has led to an all-time population high, the United States has already peaked demographically. And it will soon shrink and further age.

Thirty years ago, America had 80 million fewer people, but a quarter-million more annual births.

What explains the disappearing American?

Historically, as Westernized cultures become more affluent and leisured, whether it’s ancient Rome or modern America and Europe, they birth fewer children—even as their appetites for more household and personal help spike.

Life apparently is seen as too enjoyable to invest years in raising children. Americans are certainly marrying later. They are having fewer children—and in their 30s rather than 20s.

Women now make up nearly 60 percent of undergraduate college students. Female professional careers and delaying or avoiding birth are seen as essential to future family incomes.

Given that men who pass on college now account for 70 percent of enrollment declines in undergraduate education, there are far too few college-educated males for the new majority cohort of college-educated women.

The real gender crisis in America are these listless and stalled 20-something men. Too many are still living at home, not fully employed, often in debt, hooked on social media, video games, or satisfying their appetites—and with scant interest in marrying, much less raising children.

Figures on annual abortions remain hotly disputed. But the number of annual reported abortions still ranges between somewhere from more than 600,000 to just under 900,000.

There may be almost 20 abortions for every 100 American pregnancies—or one in five pregnancies that are terminated.

Our popular culture reflects this multifarious growing reluctance to raise children. And currently only 65 percent of children grow up in families with both parents.

The 2012 Obamacare ad, “The Life of Julia,” fixated on the new ideal American woman: a single parent of one child, unmarried, and utterly reliant on nearly 65 years of government support.

The 2013 follow-up bookend ad fetishized “Pajama Boy.” He was supposed to be a typical prolonged-adolescent, man-child—sitting at home in his child-like footie pajamas, sipping hot chocolate.

“Pajama Boy” was likely the sort that “Julia” had no intention of marrying.

There are historical downsides—economic, cultural, social, and military—to nations that shun child-raising.

They shrink in size, age, no longer believe in transcendence, become mostly agnostic or atheistic, and obsess on the self.

And sometimes they eventually become dysfunctional—and slowly disappear.

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20 thoughts on “The Disappearing American?”

  1. Among U.S. adults, there exists a crisis of inner, spiritual meaning. Religion and regular attendance of religious services eroded in the 1960’s and 70’s. Participation in a religious community exposed people to higher thoughts and nobler aspirations. They were reminded on a weekly basis that there is more to life than the self or the selfie. Having lost this influence, it has been replaced by the religion of politics. The reinforcement of whatever your chosen political beliefs are, receive validation 24×7 on the internet and social media. The old ways of study and contemplation, leading to self-awareness over self-gratification have largely been lost across several generations. The takeover of Universities by Marxists and Feminists has now moved on to the public schools and younger prey. A secular consciousness has replaced the religious and spiritual. The secular was promoted as egalitarian. Ironically, it has achieved the opposite. Secularism has delivered ever greater inequality and heightened tension between social classes. TV and internet advertising have an insidious, destructive and pervasive impact on the average person’s psyche. It has supplanted religious teaching. Outrage has become the drug of choice. There is a lot to unwind for us and the trend is not our friend. Some have found that they do not have to sit in church on Sundays to be connected to God. But many others are adrift without the guidance system that spiritual studies can provide.

    1. Healthy, vibrant religious consciousness doesn’t just peter out in a puff of smoke. You diagnose the symptoms well, but never touched the disease. Perhaps the children of American Christianity turned their back on their parent’s religion for good reason? And if so, is it their fault that they find themselves adrift?

      1. If you are an adult who has been raised in the world’s wealthiest country with unlimited opportunity and find yourself adrift, then you bear some responsibility for your own life and the choices you make. You don’t mention what you perceive to be the ‘disease.’ The article describes how too much affluence and leisure time have destroyed once powerful nations of the past. If you are stuck on the idea of the ‘system’ or capitalism as the cause of so many lost souls, then you may have missed the point of it. In the U.S. we have been given the freedom to invent and develop our own ‘system,’ for better or for worse.

  2. I used to get a kick out of the reaction during conversation when someone would ask what are you most proud of about your son. I would reply, I’m most proud that he can change a toilet flange without my help.
    He’s a chemical engineering grad, so eventually I would explain, what I mean is he will try to fix anything and most self reliant.

  3. Brian McKibben

    You reminded me of Charlie Reese’s 2013 article, “545 vs. 300 million”. And wondering how to reverse the US free-fall to failure.

    Gehl’s prescription for making elected officials behave like responsible citizens?
    My interpretation:
    1. Open primaries, D&R + other parties
    2. 4 to 8 debates on key issues
    3. Quality moderators, no #MSMedia
    4. Final-five elections
    5. Ranked-Choice Voting, to value all votes, not just extremes

    Thanks for all your great articles. They give me hope.

  4. Bob Sacamento

    Prof. Hanson,

    Rarely if ever do I disagree with you sage wisdom. And I fear I may be guilty of the greatest temerity in doing so now. (And I’m not being sarcastic, in case you’re wondering.) But I would take some issue with your description of the young American male, particularly: “The real gender crisis in America are these listless and stalled 20-something men. Too many are still living at home, not fully employed, often in debt, hooked on social media, video games, or satisfying their appetites—and with scant interest in marrying, much less raising children.” I would ask you to take a look at Dr. Helen Smith’s book, “Men on Strike”, where she makes a, to my mind, very strong case that men dropping out of institutions such as marriage and higher education is not merely symptomatic of their “failure to grow up” or leave behind infantile selfishness, as the standard accusation goes, but is rather a choice made rationally based on the actual benefits and penalties that now actually accrue to men in these institutions. Just for starters, family law courts are strongly stacked against men, and the most informed of them know it. Dr. Smith’s book is getting a little dated, but is still relevant, and never got the attention it deserved in conservative circles.

  5. In the late 80s/early 90s I was looking for work as a welder. I had a tech school degree and my father was a welding engineer for a major multinational corporation. I also had an extensive background in machining. Interviewing for anything that paid more than about $6/hour in those days simply got me laughed at as I didn’t have a journeyman’s card. Some 20 years later my wife mentioned my background to one of her clients who owned a larger machining facility, he asked immediately if I was looking for work (by that time I had transitioned into a technical position due to my experience).
    To briefly close, american manufacturing businesses can kiss my ass…I got the last laugh chumps.

  6. Professor Hanson,

    Thank you for another erudite assessment of current events. I was particularly pleased to read your response to the two Angry Readers whom you dispatched brilliantly (unfortunately, their room temperature IQ’s wil prevent them from understanding your comments…).

    Always the greatest pleasure to read your articles.


    Brown Beezer
    Red Oak, NC

  7. Carroll Morrison

    When the economy shut down I lost my field home health Rn job . I wasnt employed full time but needed some income and also was wanting to keep up my skills. Now that my savings and 401k is in deep dive I look for part time work that I might do. Nursing is out, too many mandates. My 35 yr old son has no desire to marry. He did at one point but not now. Its the cost of life,,,, housing, vehicle upkeep, gas , insurances, food , cost of kids and the big one is the type of girls these days that are really not very appealing . They are too dramatic, demanding, too emotional and have little life skills. and feel privileged. I feel that we are a vanishing Americans. . I dont think things will return kinda like the 1970s. Hopeful. fun, energetic, affordable.

  8. Dang VDH, that was depressing.
    Is there nothing to be done about this, is America doomed?
    I think Elon Musk has the right idea—we must expand our horizons. America was a much more vibrant country when we had a frontier to develop. The development of that final frontier must make the raising of children a top priority, otherwise it too will be doomed to disintegration.

  9. From what I read colleges, and workplaces, are toxic places for white male conservatives. I think they are probably the least likely to be pajama boys, and I’m speculating the least likely to want to stay on the dole as opposed to work/college – their conservative views argue against being tied to the apron strings of government.

    Whites (particularly males), face constant accusations of racist white supremacy from Woke employers/employees, and Woke college commissariats/students. Males in general are exposed to kangaroo “courts” in college under Title IX – show me the male, and I’ll show you the sexist crime. Conservatives are regularly doxxed for their views at both work and school, and often fired or suspended if they express an opinion.

    And then there’s Affirmative Action – once thought a temporary remedy back in the early ’70’s after the passing of Civil Rights law in the ’60’s – it’s still with us 50 years later, and with a vengeance. White males need not apply reads the job description.

    Not too surprising perhaps that young white male conservatives, who have not yet taken on the burden of buying a house and raising children, think twice before entering the fray. With government, and half the population standing outside in the street armed with proverbial pitch-forks, shouting their hatred of all that is white, male, and conservative – who can blame them?

  10. If the analysis provided here by VDH is correct, and I have no reason to suspect it is incorrect, it truly spells doom for Western civilization.

    Based on the huge increases in utterly useless, ignorant and uneducated males who are dependant on their parents, who decline to work and are unable to become involved in relationships with women and, together, create, raise and provide a new generation of whole, responsible individuals who can contribute to the future or our civilization, we are doomed to degenerate into a tribal, barbarian scattering of wandering barbarians such as existed on much of the earth for thousands of years prior to the great civilization that was slowly and painfully created during the last few millennia.

  11. ” . . . to my mind the greatest tragedy of all is the present economic condition wherein women strive against men, and in many cases actually succeed in usurping their places in the professions and in industry. This growing tendency of women to overshadow the masculine is a sign of a deteriorating civilization. . . . The tendency of women to push aside man, supplanting the old spirit of cooperation with him in all the affairs of life, is very disappointing to me. . . . [Women] appear to want to control and govern. They want man to look up to them, instead of their looking up to him. ” ~~ NIKOLA TESLA, 1924.

    I’ve always admired Muslim women for their modesty, though they are forbidden to marrying outside their religion (same as orth. Judaism; Christians have never had such prohibitions). In every image, Our Lady the Blessed Virgin Mary has veil over her hair.

    If Martians (or Uranians?) landed, they’d observe that women are the sexually dominant, and clothe themselves accordingly aggressively — and offensively — revealing breasts, bare legs, arms, long uncovered hair, globs of make-up. Men wear martial-uniform suits covering all skin, except for often fully shaved face (feminized sexual signaling). Women can even wear men’s clothing, and it is socially acceptable.

    Male Labor Force Participation Rate, c. 1950 – present

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