Are White Men this Recession’s Quiet Sufferers?

This week’s Newsweek coverage story “Can Manhood Survive the Recession?” paints a grim picture for educated, white men:

Through the first quarter of 2011, nearly 600,000 college-educated white men ages 35 to 64 were unemployed, according to previously unpublished Labor Department stats. That’s more than 5 percent jobless—double the group’s pre-recession rate. That might not sound bad compared with the plight of younger, less-educated workers and minorities, but it’s a historic change from the last recession, when about half as many lost their oxford shirts. The number of college-educated men unemployed for at least a year is five times higher today than after the dotcom bubble.

Flickr: Wirawat Lian-udom

White men are faring better than most in this recession.

If the idea is to have a competition over who has it the worst, the numbers make it quite clear: that’s one contest white men aren’t going to win. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the unemployment rate among whites was 8 percent in January — that’s almost half of what it was for blacks, 15.7 percent. Latinos didn’t fare well either with an unemployment rate of 11.9 percent.

Here in D.C., the unemployment rate citywide was 9.6 percent in January. In predominately black Wards 7 and 8, it ranged between 20 to 18 percent, and in predominately white Ward 3, it was 3.6 percent.

All of that isn’t to say that the suffering of an individual, out-of-work person is any more or less important than that of anyone else — it just puts the state of an entire group into context. And a deeper look reveals unemployment rates are higher for both young black and white men than their older counterparts: white men 25 to 34 years old had a 9.8 percent unemployment rate during the first quarter of 2011, compared to 7.7 to 7.9 percent for white men 35 to 64. The rate is much higher among black men: 25 to 34 year olds had a 20 percent unemployment rate, compared to 13 to 17 percent for black 45 to 64 year olds.

The Newsweek piece points out what older educated white men are experiencing is something quite new for this group, and it’s something that marginalized people have endured for some time — not getting what you want, even if you’re qualified for it.

Many of these guys may be great on the back nine but totally lack the skill set to get them through anything like this, says Judith Gerberg, a Manhattan-based executive career coach. “If you went to the college of your choice, married the woman of your choice, and bought the house of your choice, you’ve never dealt with rejection. You’ve never had to develop fortitude.” She gives her clients a chart with all the hours of the day, because corporate types are used to having other people color-code their life. If not quite the Great Depression, it is certainly the Great Humbling.

Having those “choices” is called privilege. Strip that away and you end up with a group of depressed people, at least according to Newsweek’s poll: 66 percent of men in this demographic reported having bouts of depression. Now look at another study that found that blacks, more than any other group, remained optimistic during the downturn, despite being among the hardest hit group:

Analysts who study black prosperity say the optimism is rooted in long experience with hard times. They say that now many African Americans sense attention to their struggles at the highest levels of government, something that was not evident before the recession.

So sure, it’s bad for white, educated men, worse than maybe it’s ever been for them. But it’s bad for everyone — and maybe that’s what makes this recession so unique. In addition to calling this recession the Great Humbling, this may be the beginnings of the Great Equalizer.