Charles Murray has an article in The New Criterion previewing his upcoming book. Read the whole thing, obviously. Murray is most concerned that society is dividing by intelligence (this was also the point of The Bell Curve, but everyone was too scandalized to notice).
America has never been a classless society. From the beginning, rich and poor have usually lived in different parts of town, gone to different churches, and had somewhat different manners and mores. It is not the existence of classes that is new, but the emergence of classes that diverge on core behaviors and values—classes that barely recognize their underlying American kinship.
To make this case, I use data based exclusively on non-Latino whites (hereafter just “whites”) as a way of focusing attention on the nature of the problem. We are not dealing with problems caused by ethnic inequalities. I also focus on people ages 30–49, adults in the prime of life, to strip away complications associated with young adults who are delaying marriage and older adults who are retiring earlier than they used to.
To represent the classes at the two ends of the continuum, I give you two fictional neighborhoods that I hereby label Belmont (after an archetypal upper-middle-class suburb near Boston) and Fishtown (after a neighborhood in Philadelphia that has been white working class since the Revolution).
. . .
In 1960, extremely high proportions of whites ages 30–49 in both Belmont and Fishtown were married—94 percent in Belmont and 84 percent in Fishtown. The unquestioned norm in both neighborhoods was marriage. In the 1970s, those percentages declined about equally in Belmont and Fishtown. Then came the great divergence. In Belmont, marriage among prime-age adults stabilized during the mid-1980s and remained flat thereafter, standing at 83 percent in 2010. In Fishtown, marriage continued a slide that had not slackened as of 2010, when the percentage of married whites ages 30–49 had fallen to a minority of 48 percent.
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The primary indicator of the erosion of industriousness is the increase of prime-age males with no more than a high school education who say they are not available for work—they are “out of the labor force,” in the jargon. That percentage went from a low of 3 percent in 1968 to 12 percent in 2008, rising steadily during the boom years of the 1980s and 1990s when the labor market had plentiful blue-collar jobs available for anyone who wanted to work.
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But in 1960, crime was low and the existing differences between Belmont and Fishtown did not impinge on daily life. The real Fishtown in Philadelphia, for example, was an extremely safe place to live in the 1950s (as we know both from a contemporaneous sociological study of the real Fishtown and the living memory of those who grew up in Fishtown in those years). Doors were routinely left unlocked. Children were allowed to play unwatched by their own parents, who knew that neighbors were keeping an eye on them. In the rare instances when a crime did occur, the people of Fishtown knew where to look for the offenders, and often dealt with them without bothering to call the cops.
The surge in crime that began in the mid-1960s and continued through the 1980s left Belmont almost untouched and ravaged Fishtown. From 1960–95, the violent crime rate in Fishtown more than sextupled. When we can first break out imprisonment rates in 1974 (after crime had already been increasing for a decade), there were 215 imprisoned Fishtowners for every 100,000 persons ages 18–65. By the time of the most recent survey of prison inmates in 2004, that number had grown to 965. The comparable figures for Belmont were infinitesimal and flat (13 in 1974, 27 in 2004).
The data on the super-successful are also interesting:
I assembled data for fourteen such elite urban and suburban areas. In the aggregate, their median family income went from $84,000 to $163,000 dollars between 1960 and 2000, and the percentage of adults with BAs rose from 26 percent to 67 percent.
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I created an index that combined median income and the percentage of college graduates for all the nation’s zip codes and ranked those zip codes from top to bottom on the index. By the time that graduates of Harvard, Princeton, and Yale have reached their 40s, almost half of them live in the zip codes that ranked in the top 5 percentiles of zip codes—an extraordinary finding, when you remember that I did not select the successful members of those classes. The Westchesters and Winnetkas of America are not only populated by a much higher proportion of college graduates than in 1960, but by a population that is disproportionately loaded with the cognitively talented and those who have been socialized in elite schools.
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Our propensities do sever us, and the new upper class shows no inclination to reach out across the widening divide. And so the unraveling of the civic culture in Fishtown occurs without the knowledge or the concern of Belmont, let alone with any attempt by Belmont to assist the people of Fishtown who are still trying to do the right thing. Fishtown is flyover country, or those ugly suburbs that the people of the new upper class view from afar as they drive from their enclave in Greenwich to their office in midtown Manhattan.