(Source: Truman State University Index)
America’s social fabric — long maintained through common ideals and purposes — is fraying at the edges.
Monstrous social pressures tug at the threads that bind our families, communities and classes together, according to social scientist Charles Murray. In Murray’s new book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010,” he tells the story of this great unraveling and of the dangerously wide gap between the white lower- and upper-classes.
Unfortunately, Murray’s ideology prohibits him from granting the government any kind of role in the rescue effort. While disadvantaged Americans plead for help from the bottom of a hole we’ve been digging for 50 years, Murray reminds the upper classes it is their duty to foster virtue among the poor. Instead of a life preserver, Murray tosses the impoverished lessons about diligence.
Rather than lessons, however, state and federal agencies need to provide those who face the most formidable obstacles a sound economic footing that would enable them to re-access the economy and re-establish strong social bonds.
I have not read “Coming Apart,” but I have read many reviews about the work by journalists and scholars from both sides of the political spectrum.
In spite of his misdirected recommendations, Murray points out several important and destructive demographic trends. Among the white working-class, births out of wedlock have skyrocketed and men increasingly claim disability insurance. Among low-income white Americans, the marriage rate has decreased 35 percent since 1960, according to Murray’s book. More than a quarter of the white babies born during 2010 were born to unmarried parents. Murray claims children born to single-parent households tend to perform much worse in school than those born to two-parent households.
On the other side of the social division, the white upper class enjoys lower rates of divorce and non-marital births. High-I.Q. adults dominate colleges and tend to intermarry, leading to what Murray calls cognitive homogeny, meaning they dominate the higher-skilled professions. They form a culture and tend to distance themselves from the “other” America.
The result of the differences is a tale of two nations. While these data are neither new nor shocking, their tendency to worsen each decade is reason enough to take serious steps to address them. Such a class gap shreds the social bonds that inspire empathy. The forces present in a community are similar to gravity — the further two entities move apart from each other, the less subject they are to each other’s pull. As the spheres the two classes inhabit become more separate, the foreignness we feel toward the “other” becomes more distinct and destructive.
The antidote for this growing divide is not, as Murray asserts, increased virtue. Rather than the upper classes raising the lower classes because they have an ethical advantage, the upper classes should help the lower because they have an economic advantage. The forces ripping social and familial ties are not because of an increase in immorality.
Men were hit hard during the recession: three-quarters of the 7.5 million jobs lost during the recession were lost by men, according to a November 2011 Atlantic article. This employment gap disrupts family dynamics. With more stable economic prospects, these families can renew strong relationships and work toward prosperous futures for their children. Instead of waiting for a volatile market to funnel wealth to the neediest, the government can invest in communities through jobs-training programs and expanded public employment projects.
Locally, these types of economic and social gaps are common. Twenty-six percent of the Adair County population lives below the poverty line, 12 points more than the Missouri rate, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Is the most effective response to preach for more hard work while leaving the poor financially inept? Or do we gather the appropriate public and private forces to help them while they strive for a better standard? The gap will not shrink with a moral lecture but from a concerted economic outreach.
Connor Stangler is a junior English and history major from Columbia, Mo.
(Source: Truman State University Index)