What’s Driving Class Bifurcation?

On the economic and cultural gap between the so-called “Whole Foods people” (which has become a class in itself) and “Wal-Mart people”:

The vectors driving American class bifurcation are fundamental: the decline in demand for low-skilled labor, the rise in earning power and independence of women, the desire of people with talent and education to marry each other and socialize together. None of these things is likely to change, or even necessarily should change. Unless we abolish farm machinery and factory automation, good low-skilled jobs are never coming back. Women are not going to renounce their economic and social freedom. Yale-educated moms are not often going to marry high-school-educated dads.

Notice, too, how the vectors intersect with and reinforce each other. Low earnings and poor job prospects make men less marriageable, so women enter the work force without marrying, making work more optional for men and men more optional for women. More kids are thus born to single moms, who tend to wind up poor, disadvantaging the kids. Meanwhile, the very fact of not marrying reduces men’s earnings, so the less men marry the less they earn, and the less they earn the less they marry. As all the little gears and wheels turn, lower-class neighborhoods grow more disorganized and isolated. Wash, rinse, repeat.

That’s from Jonathan Rauch’s informative and eloquent review of Charles Murray’s latest book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010.

Other sentences from the review:

…marriage and family structure have surpassed race in determining socioeconomic standing. (If you are an unborn baby choosing parents and you want to avoid poverty, you should pick married black parents over unmarried white ones.)…

In my view (shaped by living and working in Britain), the overriding fact about Europe’s social systems and norms is their similarity to America’s, not their differentness; Europhobia, in my view, is one of modern conservatism’s more curious and unattractive tics.

15 Responses to What’s Driving Class Bifurcation?

  1. Charlie says:

    I didn’t quite follow this bit:

    “the very fact of not marrying reduces men’s earnings”

    It sounds like the article is saying not marrying *causes* a man’s earnings to be reduced. Anyone know if there is an explanation for this? Cited source?

  2. Chris Yeh says:

    I’m a Whole Foods person who prefers to shop at Wal-Mart. But I try to make it to Wal-Mart early on weekends. By the time the afternoon rolls around, it’s a zoo.

  3. So supply-sider Murray is still propagating the discredited idea that our unemployment problem is structural. This skills gap explanation for labor market weakness is a myth. Unemployment is high across all sectors, not just in low-skill jobs. Apparently he wants to pretend it’ s a supply-side problem, that increasing demand would not help.

    I’m with Krugman, these people are looking for reasons not to do anything, and aren’t interested in the facts:

    “This completely unsupported claim about structural unemployment is being used as an argument against doing anything to help millions of unemployed workers find jobs.”

    Despicable.

  4. Marty Nemko says:

    The biggest factor ensuring a big class divide is that the pool of the least efficacious people have the most babies, by far.

    • Charlie says:

      Idiocracy was by no means a great movie, but the three minute intro is pretty entertaining.

      link to videobash.com

    • Not surprised to see Marty Nemko zoom in on this one, given that Murray, with his defense of scientific racism, endeared himself to the same people who can’t stand seeing a black man in the White House, unless he’s a butler.

      ” Least efficacious people’ is pseudo-libertarian (you know, like Ron Paul) code for people of color.

      For shame.

      • Marty Nemko says:

        It’s very sad to see Williams’ post. There is nothing I said nor implied about race. And I’m not a libertarian, and while I have concerns about Obama’s core belief in redistributive “justice” being the wisest path for America, his being Black is irrelevant to me and to the vast majority of people. More important, a comment such as Williams’ squelches/censors conversations unreasonably.

        I might mention, by the way, that I have personally sacrificed more for Black people than most, certainly more than most Black people have sacrificed for whites. For example, I gave up a research position at the ultra-prestigious Rockefeller University so I could become a drug counselor with inner-city kids. Before implying I’m someone who’d only want someone Black in the White House if he’s a butler, you might read the entry on me in Wikipedia: link to en.wikipedia.org

        • Charlie says:

          while I have concerns about Obama’s core belief in redistributive “justice” being the wisest path for America, his being Black is irrelevant to me and to the vast majority of people. More important, a comment such as Williams’ squelches/censors conversations unreasonably.

          Ok, sounds reasonable though I’m not sure what the capitalization in “Black” is all about…

          I might mention, by the way, that I have personally sacrificed more for Black people than most, certainly more than most Black people have sacrificed for whites.

          (scrrrrraaaatch link to youtube.com )

          Wow. Tin ear for sensitive subjects?

          • Marty Nemko says:

            Charlie, you betcha I’m sensitive about such an accusation. I’m proud of having been a fair-minded, meritocratic person, and for someone to imply that I’d only want a Black man in the White House if he were a butler is something I needed to immediately make clear couldn’t be further from the truth.

        • You have convicted yourself, Nemko:

          “I have personally sacrificed more for Black people than most, certainly more than most Black people have sacrificed for whites. ”

          You do indeed have a tin ear. As if four hundred years of American slavery never happened.

          Show that sentence to any black person and see how they respond.

          Incredibly lame, and downright hard to believe someone could be so obtuse and unconscious of how that sounds.

          Thanks for proving my point.

  5. gregorylent says:

    need to talk about level of consciousness for this … and to do that, the concept that there ARE levels of consciousness has to be accepted

  6. Colin says:

    Despite its rich history of a strong middle class, America is becoming a barbell economy: well educated, high-end earners and minimum wage service providers, with very little left in the middle.

    It’s not the fault of any political party or policy. It’s the economic reality of 21st century globalization (LOTS of poor people willing to work for less) and technology (demand for high-skill labor).

  7. Ben M says:

    Going by recent developments in countries such as South Korea and Japan it may also lead to lower levels of highly educated women having children and thus lower fertility rates amongst the brightest.

    An old article about the potential side effects of this is 100,000 years
    link to news.bbc.co.uk

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