The white working class is in big trouble, and the liberal elite is largely to blame. So says Charles Murray in his latest book, "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010." As a scholar at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, and this being an election year, wouldn't he just.
A new report shows that over half of childbirths by women under 30 are out of wedlock, with the white percentage rising fastest. This is a disturbing trend. And in whose gut does Murray jab the finger of fault? Into that of college grads, who overwhelmingly do bear children within the confines of marriage. Murray concentrates his wrath on a fictional professor at Columbia University.
As Murray explains, the prof and his ilk look down on the white folk who patronize McDonald's and watch TV shows not on PBS. Worse of all, they don't loudly condemn them for having children without marriage.
"If you are of a conspiratorial cast of mind," Murray writes (perhaps to distance himself from the ludicrous thought to follow), "nonjudgmentalism looks suspiciously like the new upper class keeping the good stuff to itself." This privileged group, he goes on, "refuses to let anyone else in on the secret" that marriage is the desirable social state.
I have an idea. Have the Ivy professors each call 10 blue-collar guys currently cohabiting with their girlfriends and children. The academics can then lecture them on the benefits of marriage and point to the error of their ways. That should go over big.
Murray industriously studies where the rich liberals live, zeroing in on certain affluent corners of Washington, D.C., Manhattan and San Francisco — of course. He maps where graduates of Harvard, Yale and Princeton reside, and does a "secondary database" of schools just below that exalted level. Wesleyan University, he tells us, is a good school but "not at the summit." (Gosh, can't a girl from NYU play?)
The more densely a zip code is populated by graduates of elite colleges, he writes, "the more densely it is populated by overeducated elitist snobs." Further, these "SuperZips" are surrounded by "elite bubbles" that allegedly buffer the Wine Advocate subscribers from the Pabst Blue Ribbon crowd.
A few problems here. Murray is talking about tiny urban zip codes. The little island of Manhattan has 41 zip codes. (By contrast, one zip in Nevada, 89049, is bigger than Connecticut.) Uptown millionaires sit next to janitors on the subway ride to Wall Street. There's no faster way, short of strapping on a rocket backpack and lighting the fuse.
Let's consider the possibility that the decline of marriage among the working class is at least partly tied to collapsing incomes that make the fellows less desirable as permanent mates. Conservatives will further argue that government programs may discourage marriage. And true, cohabiting parents often say that marriage would raise the official household income to the point that they'd lose food stamps and subsidized child care.
But if subsidized day care is all that keeps working couples from the altar, why not extend this benefit to them? Rather than fight the irreversible forces of globalization, some economists suggest, let's ask its economic winners to ease the working class's lot. Government guaranteed health coverage, for example, ensures that the agony of a layoff doesn't snowball into loss of medical insurance, as well. Bah, just what the Columbia professor might say.
Murray holds that $28,000 a year is better than nothing. The stiffs should suck it in, and those who don't are morally weak. You can hear his bankrollers at the American Enterprise Institute — the financiers and CEOs baying for lower taxes — applauding warmly.
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