Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Is America Falling Apaprt? Review of Charles Murry's New Book

lazy poor person at work

This is about the new book Coming Apart: the State of White America 1960-2010. by Charles Murry. Since I haven't gotten the book yet I'm taking my knowledge of it from an article by the author in on line Wall Street Journal, "The American Divide." The Saturday essay. Jan 21, 2012. Charles Murry is librarian with Enterprise Institute. He's best known for co authoring The Bell Curve which was highly criticized as making racist assumptions.

In the new book he argues that America is falling apart, just in time the elections, what a condense. The reason we are falling apart is becuase rich people are out of touch with society and no longer share their superior acuity with poor people as they once did in that well known golden age when things used to be perfect. In the article he states: "The ideal of an 'American way of life' is fading as the working class falls further away from institutions like marriage and religion and the upper class becomes more isolated. "

As with most conservatives he points to a mythical golden age when things were perfect and this was based upon some social fabric that he imagines his social class held together.

"When Americans used to brag about "the American way of life"—a phrase still in common use in 1960—they were talking about a civic culture that swept an extremely large proportion of Americans of all classes into its embrace. It was a culture encompassing shared experiences of daily life and shared assumptions about central American values involving marriage, honesty, hard work and religiosity."
In arguing that this social fabric is coming apart he points factors such as:

(1) marriage
Marriage: In 1960, extremely high proportions of whites in both Belmont and Fishtown were married—94% in Belmont and 84% in Fishtown. In the 1970s, those percentages declined about equally in both places. Then came the great divergence. In Belmont, marriage stabilized during the mid-1980s, standing at 83% in 2010. In Fishtown, however, marriage continued to slide; as of 2010, a minority (just 48%) were married. The gap in marriage between Belmont and Fishtown grew to 35 percentage points, from just 10.

(2) single parenthood

Another aspect of marriage—the percentage of children born to unmarried women—showed just as great a divergence. Though politicians and media eminences are too frightened to say so, nonmarital births are problematic. On just about any measure of development you can think of, children who are born to unmarried women fare worse than the children of divorce and far worse than children raised in intact families. This unwelcome reality persists even after controlling for the income and education of the parents.

In 1960, just 2% of all white births were nonmarital. When we first started recording the education level of mothers in 1970, 6% of births to white women with no more than a high-school education—women, that is, with a Fishtown education—were out of wedlock. By 2008, 44% were nonmarital. Among the college-educated women of Belmont, less than 6% of all births were out of wedlock as of 2008, up from 1% in 1970.

(2) industriousness

The norms for work and women were revolutionized after 1960, but the norm for men putatively has remained the same: Healthy men are supposed to work. In practice, though, that norm has eroded everywhere. In Fishtown, the change has been drastic. (To avoid conflating this phenomenon with the latest recession, I use data collected in March 2008 as the end point for the trends.)

The primary indicator of the erosion of industriousness in the working class 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." That percentage went from a low of 3% in 1968 to 12% in 2008. Twelve percent may not sound like much until you think about the men we're talking about: in the prime of their working lives, their 30s and 40s, when, according to hallowed American tradition, every American man is working or looking for work. Almost one out of eight now aren't. Meanwhile, not much has changed among males with college educations. Only 3% were out of the labor force in 2008.
(3) employment

There's also been a notable change in the rates of less-than-full-time work. Of the men in Fishtown who had jobs, 10% worked fewer than 40 hours a week in 1960, a figure that grew to 20% by 2008. In Belmont, the number rose from 9% in 1960 to 12% in 2008.

Crime: The surge in crime that began in the mid-1960s and continued through the 1980s left Belmont almost untouched and ravaged Fishtown. From 1960 to 1995, the violent crime rate in Fishtown more than sextupled while remaining nearly flat in Belmont. The reductions in crime since the mid-1990s that have benefited the nation as a whole have been smaller in Fishtown, leaving it today with a violent crime rate that is still 4.7 times the 1960 rate.

(4) religiosity

Whatever your personal religious views, you need to realize that about half of American philanthropy, volunteering and associational memberships is directly church-related, and that religious Americans also account for much more nonreligious social capital than their secular neighbors. In that context, it is worrisome for the culture that the U.S. as a whole has become markedly more secular since 1960, and especially worrisome that Fishtown has become much more secular than Belmont. It runs against the prevailing narrative of secular elites versus a working class still clinging to religion, but the evidence from the General Social Survey, the most widely used database on American attitudes and values, does not leave much room for argument.
The first thing that needs to be said is that this is not some new great revelation. Back in the mythical golden age when this harmonious society supposedly enjoyed the instruction and wisdom of rich guiding poor the classes rubbing shoulders and a christian poor humbly accepting their inferiority and the superior class nobly leading by christian example, the truth of the case was that no one was noble, no one was leading by example, the rich were no more Christian than hypocritical. When I was a sociology major in the mid 70s my professors lectured on on classical prejudices against the poor. Even in this alleged mythical golden age the poor were singled out as having lower morals and being poor because they are lazy, which is basically what he is saying now. Murry is arguing that the poor are poorer becuase they quite going to to chruch and getting married, rather than quieting going to chruch and getting married because the economic opportunities have dried up. That's especially obvious in his alaysis of employment. He complains about the fact that more men in lower economic bracket have let the labor force, he's trying to imply the connection to morality of marriage and that they have become lazy because they don't go to chruch. He presents no economic analysis at all about shifts in the labor market or the availability of opportunity. The shift from a manufacturing economy to a service economy that requires a high priced education to complete for even lower level management jobs and no employment opportunity or security for the working class. He totally ign9ores Reagan's labor busting strategy or the growth of the rust belt in the 80s.

He's making a causal assertion that morality has fostered laziness with no ability to check the possibility that what he sees as laziness is discouragement and economics is really to blame. People leave the labor force when they are constantly rebuffed from finding anything. No one has tired to factor in the effect of so many having their homes stolen over the past decade. Unemployment has been record numbers for several years running, and we have been told form both side, liberal and conservative that the statistics are really not reflective of the much higher group that gave up on looking because they opportunities aren't there. Murry is putting together old prejudices and unfounded assumptions about laziness, morality, and poverty and presenting a superficial look at the statistics that aren't all that relevant because he leaves out the most crucial ones.

He makes no effort to deal with changes in moral concepts. The big cultural taboo on children born out of wedlock was removed in the sixties as a result of "mew morality." Was that something people brought into effect, was the working class that changed this? I think was the children of the rich and the upper middle class, college educated counter cultural types. Similar taboos on living together without marriage and so on were also removed. The children of the upper class invented the coutner culture, and when they did so they had a renaissance ethic backed by fancy educations to go with it. It was then emulated by working class kids who did not understand its meaning and lacked the cultural acumen to be renaissance hippies so it became working class party time. Yet we had one decade of counter culture and four decades of corporate greed. It's much more obvious which had the real effect. Nixon's allownce of Japanese dumping on the American economy, followed by the decline of the steel industry. When Reagan tax cuts could have potentially propped up the steel industry corporate greed chose short term profits by investing in non labor intensive ventures such as oil rather than re-tooling the steel. Then of course we had the big shift in the 90s to the internet bubble. That means loss of manufacturing sector.

He's also managed to guide his inquiry along the lines that would suggest those prejudiced connections to begin with. Why include marriage and single parenthood and leave out major economic shifts unless he already expected to argue that there's a connection between not being being married and being lazy? While there's some truth in his assertion about single parent households, several studies have indicated that fatherless children come under the five times rule that proof people come under; five times more likely to go to prison, be drug addicted or alcohol addicted, live in poverty and so on. Of course Murry assumes the causality from correlation with nothing to back it up but his prejudice. Rather than see the choice of single parenthood as influenced by the economic plight he sees the economic plight as the consequence of the choice of single parenthood. As though all those high school girls are saying "o I can't wait to be a single parent. I'm going to run out and get preggers so I can be on welfare, what a glorious future watching re-runs of the Beverly hillbillies and getting drunk before lunch." In the glorious golden age of the American way of life a guy got a woman pregnant he would go get a job at the bowling ally or washing dishes and marry her. Now there's no job at the bowling ally and working at McDonalds wont put enough on the table to fund a family. While it's true it would be something, it wouldn't be much and one needs two or three such jobs at the same time just to get by. The alternative is either let your kid starve so you appear to be honest and hardworking, although a fool, or take welfare and save your kid but raise them in poverty. While it's true that his probalby has resulted in lowering of standards about marriage, so what. The reason we are in this fix is because the old way only produced bitter impoverished hypocrites who still didn't undersatnd economics.

Why use marriage as a guide line for morality? Suppose he chose giving to charity? Giving is a Christian virtue, so is charity. In fact America's poor give more than rich do according to:

McClatchy, My 19,2009

The generosity of poor people isn't so much rare as rarely noticed, however. In fact, America's poor donate more, in percentage terms, than higher-income groups do, surveys of charitable giving show. What's more, their generosity declines less in hard times than the generosity of richer givers does.

"The lowest-income fifth (of the population) always give at more than their capacity," said Virginia Hodgkinson, former vice president for research at Independent Sector, a Washington-based association of major nonprofit agencies. "The next two-fifths give at capacity, and those above that are capable of giving two or three times more than they give."

Read more here:

Read more here:
Church attendance is not down but has remained steady since the 50s. He has not bothered to consult the best study, Pew Religious landscape or it's take on historically black churches. What does this study tell us about historically black churches and chruch attendance?

CBS Minnesota, Feb 10, 2011

According to Pew, 59 percent of those who say they belong to Historically Black Protestant Churches go to church at least once a week. That compares to 58 percent of Evangelical Protestant Churches, and 34 percent of mainline Protestant Church members.
The historically black Churches beat the culturally elite evangelical whites by one percent, what that do to Murry's theory of religiosity in the working class? Just think those histrionically black churches according to Pew are 66% democrat and only 7% republican and they still manage to go to chruch a bit more than their white upper class counterparts.

There's evidence that the percentage of Americas that regularly attend chruch is really more like 26% and the polling questions have been asked in the wrong way, and when the researchers go more deeply they find the percentage is only half. The problem is that data is not specif to class. So that could be more the fault of white evangelicals as working class or minority.

Here's a game changer for Murry to consider. Half of Americans overall are now poor!
CBS News, Dec 15,2011

WASHINGTON - Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans — nearly 1 in 2 — have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income.

The latest census data depict a middle class that's shrinking as unemployment stays high and the government's safety net frays. The new numbers follow years of stagnating wages for the middle class that have hurt millions of workers and families.

"Safety net programs such as food stamps and tax credits kept poverty from rising even higher in 2010, but for many low-income families with work-related and medical expenses, they are considered too `rich' to qualify," said Sheldon Danziger, a University of Michigan public policy professor who specializes in poverty.

"The reality is that prospects for the poor and the near poor are dismal," he said. "If Congress and the states make further cuts, we can expect the number of poor and low-income families to rise for the next several years."

what does this do to Murry's theory? I think it pretty much tells us that the trends he's worrying about are caused by the economic shifts and not the other way around. It means that a huge portion of people who are now poor weren't before. So why didn't they exemplify the goo odl AWOL and thus save themselves from this fall into poverty? IF they were in God's favorite class how did they get out of it? If it was by abandoning marriage and work why didn't their middle class status tell them not ot do that?

Sociologists have long rejected the "culture of poverty" theory that Murry's books trades in. It's not that these guys are becoming poor becasue they give up on America's way of life and righteousness in order to be lazy and have sex, it's that those behaviors follow the ravages of economic trends that breed hopelessness after years of unsuccessfully trying to get back to the blessed state of middle class. Who is responsible for these economic trends? that's probably too complex to say, but I'm wiling to bet that Bush and the Republicans didn't help it any.

Most U.S. Unemployed no longer receive benefits:

CBS news nov 5 2011

WASHINGTON - The jobs crisis has left so many people out of work for so long that most of America's unemployed are no longer receiving unemployment benefits.

Early last year, 75 percent were receiving checks. The figure is now 48 percent — a shift that points to a growing crisis of long-term unemployment. Nearly one-third of America's 14 million unemployed have had no job for a year or more.

Congress is expected to decide by year's end whether to continue providing emergency unemployment benefits for up to 99 weeks in the hardest-hit states. If the emergency benefits expire, the proportion of the unemployed receiving aid would fall further.

So all these middle class people just lost industriousness over night for no reaosn? Why didn't their middle class training from going to chruch and being conservative save them? What the children they raise learning? Some political party is preventing them from getting help. It must be those tax and spend democrats wanting to give more unemployment benefits makes them more lazy so they are they not looking for work.

Over all it looks like this book by Murry is another political propaganda piece like the bell curve that's been trotted in time for the election to terrify the conservative evangelicals and motive them through their cherished prejudices.


MrMinder said...

It really is depressing. As an aside (though it's related, of course) it's not much better here in Sweden. We young adults have an especially hard time finding employment.

Metacrock said...

It's pretty clear we are in a world wide depression. I've been calling it that since about 2008.

Miles said...

Except in China.

Miles said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Metacrock said...

no depression in china hu? All those kung fu movies.

Miles said...

Every time. . . .

But seriously, they are having a slower growth now but I predict their growth will still be around 8%. They have their own problems (gap between rich and poor, male/female ratio, fewer exports, new leadership coming up) but they are doing better than the US. and they are doing WAAAYY better than the EU is.