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Coming Apart: The State Of White America, 1960-2010

March 22, 2012 by staff 

Coming Apart: The State Of White America, 1960-2010, Charles Murray’s latest book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, is an extraordinarily important study of the process implied by his title. Charles has a penchant for writing books that challenge, and sometimes change, America’s policy environment.

Murray’s Losing Ground was published in 1984 and fundamentally transformed America’s thinking on the causes of poverty. It providedanlytic foundations for President Clinton’s welfare reform of 1996. While the odds are long, let’s hope Coming Apart will produce a similar beneficial outcome.

Coming Apart describes in text and great statistical detail the huge cultural and economic problems that are swamping the poorer half of America’s population, especially the bottom fifth. Among them every measure of social malady has dramatically increased. An abundance of data shows the loss of intact families, lower labor force participation, decreased church attendance, and lower participation in civic volunteer groups.

Essentially much of the white working class is estranged from a virtuous civic culture. Fortunately this seems less true in Montana. We maintain a healthy fragment of the American culture whose passing Murray laments.

As America’s economy has hollowed out, opportunities for those lacking a college degree or having a skilled trade have declined enormously. Manufacturing has increased a bit, but it demands ever-higher skills and greater self-discipline. In sum, the working class has an impoverished set of job opportunities relative to those enjoyed in the 1960s. Alas, their culture followed this decline trajectory.

Concurrently a new privileged class is emerging. This high achieving elite is self-selected and mutually reinforced; it’s based on education and mental abilities. This group talks the 1960s culture but generally still reveres and lives social norms of the 1950s. This group tends to cocoon in its own neighborhood and sub-culture. In urban areas especially, these people live isolated from those below them.

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