Why Donald Trump appeals to angry, unemployed men

Economically disenfranchised men have fuelled Donald Trump. A similar situation could play out in Canada.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers an economic policy speech to the Detroit Economic Club, Monday, Aug. 8, 2016, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Donald Trump delivers an economic policy speech to the Detroit Economic Club, Monday, Aug. 8, 2016, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Every political movement has, at its core, an economic reason for being. The rise of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump—and the threat this poses to free trade, immigration and the promotion of democracy worldwide—can thus be traced to a dramatic decline in job prospects among male American workers and the nativist sentiment this has inspired. With a similar trend on the march in Canada, is it time to start worrying about a northern version of Trumpism?

The growing sense of economic insecurity and political rage in the United States that has propelled Trump is most easily explained by the steady disappearance of men from the labour market. Since 1990 the share of American men aged 25 to 54 (those considered “prime working age”) participating in the workforce has fallen from 93 per cent to 88 per cent. The decline is twice as big among those with a high school education or less. In a report earlier this summer, the U.S. President’s Council of Economic Advisors said the “long-term trend is worrisome, since it indicates American men  . . .  are increasingly disconnected from the labour market.”

These people are not just out of work; they’ve given up looking for a job altogether. As such, they’re vulnerable to toxic messages of political and economic alienation. The U.S. drop in male labour participation rates can largely be traced to a decline in manufacturing and construction jobs, exacerbated by the Great Recession. The premium placed on ever-higher levels of education has caused further troubles for male workers attracted to traditional blue-collar jobs and who consider higher education a hardship. With their economic prospects neutered in this way, many have endowed their anger to Trump.

Here in Canada the situation is not quite as dire, but the trend line is heading in the same problematic direction. Since 1990, the labour participation rate for Canadian males age 25 to 54 with a high-school-or-less education has fallen from 90 to 84 per cent, with the decline accelerating sharply over the past decade. Among poorly educated Canadian men of prime working age, one in six have dropped out of the workforce—up from one in 10 a quarter-century ago. As the Conference Board of Canada points out in a recent economic update, the equivalent of the entire male population of Winnipeg has given up on work.

The reason Canada has managed to avoid the worst of Trump-like disaffection among male workers, according to Kristelle Audet, a senior economist at the Conference Board, lies in the resiliency of the Canadian construction industry, and in particular the housing market, which has provided a steady source of employment. “But,” she cautions, “there is obviously a lot of concern about the strength of housing going forward.” Chief among these concerns are recent government innovations that deliberately seek to dampen housing sales in Canada: notably a new housing tax in British Columbia, stiffer federal mortgage requirements and various provincial and municipal land use regulations. A collapse in the housing market engineered by such policies could do more than just blow off steam among housing speculators; it could blow up into an economic catastrophe for this vulnerable segment of the workforce. And unlike the U.S., where the rise of Trump has made them a politically urgent topic, the fate of young, poorly educated men has been largely ignored in Canada. “There is a lack of awareness on this issue,” says Audet in an interview. “We really need to understand this demographic better.”

Considering the fascination gender equity currently holds among Canadian policy-makers, surely young men deserve greater attention. Consider that last month, Statistics Canada reported on labour market participation for women, and the news was good on all fronts. Not only has the percentage of prime working-age women in the workforce risen steadily over the past several decades, but the trend line sharply deviates from U.S. experience. From 1997 to 2015 the overall participation rate for prime-age women rose by five percentage points in Canada while it fell three points in the U.S. Women now comprise 58 per cent of graduates from Canadian universities and colleges. The future, in other words, looks increasingly rosy for female workers. Perhaps it’s time to stop worrying about the share of women enrolled in university science and technology programs and start worrying about the overall dearth of young men in higher education of any kind.

If “because it’s 2015” was a suitable answer to last year’s question about the need for a 50/50 gender balance in the federal cabinet, what’s the answer to this year’s questions about the fate of unemployed young men? Our leaders should spare some thought for their plight—before it threatens our politics as it has in the U.S.


Why Donald Trump appeals to angry, unemployed men

  1. Years ago I said there was no future for uneducated white males

    People laughed of course……but voila, here we are

    And no amount of screaming at politicians ….or immigrants…..is going to change that.

    It’s education or welfare

  2. Whilst I accept the statistics relating to a reduction of men in the workforce,compared to women, the answer to Mr. Trump’s appeal may be elsewhere. It seems to me that attendance at Trump meetings is not greater for men and, thus, uneducated males (those without university education) who are quite able to operate computerized robots, have other concerns. I suggest, by looking at the highly frightening situation in Europe today, that immigration IS the problem.

  3. Whilst I accept the statistics relating to a reduction of men in the workforce,compared to women, the answer to Mr. Trump’s appeal may be elsewhere. It seems to me that attendance at Trump meetings is not greater for men and, thus, uneducated males (those without university education) who are quite able to operate computerized robots, have other concerns. I suggest, by looking at the highly frightening situation in Europe today, that immigration IS the problem.

    • Yeah it’s always the fault of ‘outsiders’……’furriners’……never our fault.

  4. Lol, Donald Trump being elected will threaten democracy worldwide? I honestly only made it that far, can’t take this author seriously when they resort to such cheap fear-mongering. For all these years we heard about how terrible and biased Fox News is. And it definitely is, but this campaign has shown that the leftist media is just as bad.

    • Yeah, ‘cheap fear-mongering’ is what Trump is all about.

      The Dems btw are not ‘left’

    • I had the same thought. There is a lot to criticize in trump without resorting to this type of hyperbole.

  5. One solution to the problem of “angry unemployed men” is to give them a socially acceptable rethink about not being employed. Historically people have used their incomes as a measuring stick of their worth, both to themselves and to society. Especially for men. Money means success. Money means power. Money means having your choice of women. Money means respect. What else is there? So for men to be “incomeless” is to fail in the game of life. At all levels. They become worthless in their own minds. But most recently behavioral scientists, looking at happiness as a social good, report that living a good life is the true measure of success. At the same time I have noticed a surge in many men (successful in all respects of wealth, power etc.) are “voluntarily” taking sabbaticals from the workforce. Work is not doing it for them anymore! They are taking control of their lives. Many years ago men became “househusbands” quite by accident, when they were downsized or aged out. Despite their initial shock and depression, they found joy in other aspects of life. Many claim it was the “best thing that happened to me.” So men just have to rethink their goals in life. If yah ain’t that “workforce marketable” then find a way to come to grips with that. There are many woman out there who love their careers and would love to have you on board as part of the team. You can find value somewhere.

    • it’s a nice thought that it needs a rethink, but it’s not up to the guys who are out of work. Try getting a date on tinder by writing that you’re unemployed but you’re a good person ….

  6. The article fails to mention the downturn in the oil patch. The oil patch has been a provider of high paying jobs for those without advanced education. If the current downturn becomes permanent, and possibly worsens due to a move away from fossil fuels and an inability to get oil to tidewater for foreign markets via new pipelines, then it will just get worse for males without advanced education.

  7. The premise on which this editorial is based, i.e. that Donald Trump is a potentially dangerous demagogue who appeals to man’s baser instincts is presumptive at best and patently false at worst.

    • You haven’t followed the news haveya…..

    • Nice to see that someone gets it Eleanor

  8. The main reason that trump appeals to unemployed men is that they have no one else to look to. If you accept the premise that globalization has put a strain on the less educated workers in north America, both through foreign competition and immigration, there are very few candidates who speak to this issue with any solution but ‘more of the same’. If you back someone into a corner with very little hope of a brighter future, you should expect a reaction from them. Trump is their reaction. If there was a more reasonable candidate who was dealing with their issues there would be a significant fragmentation in their choice.
    Part of the problem for Trump is that those angry unemployed men are not a large enough demographic to propel him to the whitehouse. He must look for other voters … and he’s found them in the fringes of society who will vote based on a single issue. Weather it is muslims and daesh or Mexicans crossing the border, trump has worked to appeal to each of these groups to build a base large enough to have a shot at winning.

    • Guys. GUYS! Heads up, pl-ease.

      Can we focus on Is**m for a moment. Daesh is not focussed on unemployed white men, it is focussed on all non-muslims, and as we look at Europe’s immigration problems, it would be foolish to believe that the Atlantic Ocean is a secure barrier.

      Do an extensive audit on the number of mosques in North America, and be prepared for a shock. Mexico is a ‘red herring’, Mr. Trump can not use the Is**mic card specifically, he knows that, but I predict that his future foreign and defence policies will be unofficially Is**mophobic.

      That is why the pundits are having a problem identifying the demographics of Mr. Trump’s followers who are not simply unemployed white males.

  9. You forgot the pejorative ‘white’ BTW, also I would substitute the word ‘angry’ with ‘apathetic’. Being in contact with the only-minority-okay-to-hate, on a daily basis, I would have to say that of those who would bother to vote, few would vote for a Trump-ish candidate. The majority accept minorities and women in the workplace, or anywhere, they can’t really see anyone pursuing ‘their’ lifestyle with the aim of pushing them out, and of the more educated ones that even care, know the majority of women graduating from university are mainly in the same humanities or social work fields with 10 candidates for every job.

    • It goes without saying that many minorities will avoid Trump, and acceptance in the workplace may be fairly obvious. But that’s not the reason for Islamophobia … as a quick browse through YouTube will show.

  10. The post war growth based on massive consumption of many life conveniences
    such as toasters, washing machines, microwave ovens, automobiles …. is over.
    What is next after everyone has their flat screen TVs and smartphones?
    The greatest demand for such home appliances and modes of transport is in the
    developing countries. Products made in the USA, with our level of wages, would
    make these products too expensive in these underdeveloped markets, therefore
    companies have moved their manufacturing into these countries closer to the
    growing number of middle class consumers.

    • Nice to know there is always somebody that has the answers. Surely none of this could have a thing to do with the fact that a huge segment of Americans know and clearly understand that anointing a nominee for President, in particular a highly flawed and unqualified person, no matter their pedigree is unacceptable. Bernie Sanders didn’t get it wrong, and Trump knows for sure that he isn’t getting it wrong.

  11. Well you guys have gone all around the mulberry bush…but it’s still tje same answer


    Not immigrants or Muslims

    Check out a Globe and Mail on Saturdays……it’ss full of jobs we can’t begin to fill

    • Then, Emily, once they have infiltrated, fully established themselves, multiplied with large families, educated in Saudi=paid government-sponsored madrasas … then what? Me? I’ll be pushing up daisies by then.

      “You haven’t followed the news haveya…..”

      Open YouTube; insert ‘UK muslims’.

      Free speech will balance most discussions.

      • Ahhh there’s always somebody about to take us over……the Irish catholics, the Yellow Peril, the Japanese invasion of the 80s….which is just your fears……not reality

  12. Let me get this straight – men having less labour participation – but still more than women, is an emergency that requires us to set aside feminism for awhile? How does that make sense? Women lag behind men still in the labour market – so how is men’s participation the problem?

    I believe everyone should be able to make a living – but what seems to be being argued here is it is okay for men to expect to get paid well without getting educated or skilled whatsoever – and that it is an emergency that some men are now no longer able to just walk into a good paying job without trying?


    If this was an article about how we need to improve the state of the labour market generally – raise wages for working people etc, I’d support it wholeheartedly – but women are more educated than men on average and less employed on average and making less money on average – so I am really flabbergasted that men are the victims here.

    Losing an unfair advantage is not a plight.

    Instead of pining for a lost time when men could work half as hard, with a quarter of the education and make twice as much as women – let’s talk about how we can make life better for all workers.