Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Some Statistics on the White Working Class

I've been picking on Charles' Murray's new book about the decline of the white working class, which seems to be very stupid about why his subjects are doing so badly. But at least he understands that there is a real problem here. Some statistics he cites in a Post op-ed titled Five Myths about White People:

Since the early 1970s, white America has become more secular overall, but the drop has been much greater in the working classes.As of the 2000s, the General Social Survey indicates, nearly 32 percent of upper-middle-class whites ages 30 to 49 attended church regularly, compared with 17 percent of the white working class in the same age group.
This is an interesting counterpoint to the "clinging to guns and religion" picture of the working class.

The share of upper-middle-class whites ages 30 to 49 who are married has been steady since 1984, hovering around 84 percent. During that same period, marriage for working-class whites in the same age group has fallen from 70 percent to 48 percent.
There is a problem with cause and effect here, since it takes two incomes to push most households into the middle class. But the basic picture is correct; in America, poor people are the ones who have trouble staying married.

In 1968, 97 percent of white males ages 30 to 49 who had at most a high school diploma were in the labor force — meaning they either had a job or were actively seeking work. By March 2008 (before the Great Recession), that number had dropped to 88 percent. That means almost one out of eight white working-class men in the prime of life is not even looking for a job. This is not just an issue of “discouraged workers”; this rate of labor force dropouts rose in the boom years of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s as rapidly as it did in years of recession.
The big problem with Murray's book is that he doesn't understand why this is so; he thinks it is a moral problem, whereas his critics think it is because the pay and job security of working class men has fallen so much that more and more find it not worth the trouble. As a businessman I know likes to say, "I find that the thing that really motivates people is money."

All of these numbers, along with my personal experience, create a picture of an America divided between an orderly middle class and a lower class sinking in chaos. The thing you need to stay above water in America is stability: stable relationships, steady work habits, long-term thinking. Moving frequently is hell on your credit rating, I suppose because lenders find that people who move a lot either can't pay their bills or forget to. Elementary schools find that their worst students are the ones who change schools often, especially during the middle of the year. Along with chaos, either as causes, effects, or both, come drug abuse and mental illness.

The way to turn poor people into middle class people is to give them stable jobs that pay well enough to lift them out of short-term thinking. Nothing else works.

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