The Cause of America’s Class Divide

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

A book explains why the nation has split along class lines more than racial and ethnic lines.

In today’s polarized America, a surefire way of being characterized as a member of the wrong political camp is to favorably quote an author, commentator, or academic who is seen as being in the wrong camp.

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A case in point is Charles Murray, the sociologist, and author, who claims to be a libertarian but seems more like a conservative. He has been vilified as a racist by the left ever since he published The Bell Curve, a book that has been misunderstood to say that differences in intelligence between races are due to genetics.

Murray wasn’t accused of racism in his 2012 book, Coming Apart, the State of White America 1960 – 2010, a book that I recently reread and will summarize in this commentary. Its thesis is that the US is splitting apart along class lines more than racial or ethnic ones. Because it focuses on white America, the book doesn’t trigger racial emotions and misunderstandings.

Murray’s predictions of what the divide would look like by 2020 were prescient. They are quoted at the end of this commentary.

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Books by liberal social scientists are also in my library, including ones written a half-century ago by two of my favorites, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Nathan Glazer.  These two extended their analysis to several races and ethnic groups but came to some of the same unpopular conclusions as Murray did, especially about the benefits of traditional families.

Coming Apart describes two fictional white neighborhoods, Belmont and Fishtown, both of which have a strong resemblance to actual places.  Belmont is upper-middle class, while Fishtown is working class.

Murray writes that in Belmont, “Everybody has a bachelor’s or graduate degree and works in the high-prestige professions or management, or is married to such a person.” In Fishtown, by contrast, “Nobody has more than a high school diploma. Everybody who has an occupation is in a blue-collar job, mid- or low-level service job, or a low-level white-collar job.”

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Murray also speaks of SuperZips, which are zip codes in which the residents rank in the 95th through 99th percentiles in education and income. The metro areas of New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., have the highest number of SuperZips.

Murray says this about the residents of SuperZips:

My proposition is that the hollow elite is as dysfunctional in its way as the new lower class is in its way.  Personally and as families, its members are successful. But they have abdicated their responsibility to set and promulgate standards. The most powerful and successful members of their class increasingly trade on the perks of their privileged positions without regard to the seemliness of that behavior. The members of the new upper class are active politically, but when it comes to using their positions to help sustain the republic in day-to-day life, they are AWOL.

He seems to be saying that the concept of noblesse oblige is dead.

Murray establishes 1962 as the point where the classes began to rapidly split apart, not only in education and income but also in values, interests, lifestyles, and neighborhoods.

Except for the uber-rich, it had been common before 1962 for well-off whites and working-class whites to live in the same neighborhoods or at least nearby, to attend the same or similar K-12 schools, to be members of the same social and fraternal organizations, to eat similar foods at home, to watch similar TV programs, to live in modest homes, and to have similar values about work and “the American way of life.” For example:

Almost all parents were married, and divorce was rare across all classes (and races). This held whether the parents were college grads or high school dropouts.

Whether rich or poor, it was not respectable for adult males to be idle. According to surveys, 98 percent of men in their thirties and forties said that they were in the labor force, either working or looking for work.

Only 8 percent of adults had a college degree.

In 2012 dollars, only about 8 percent of American families had incomes of $100,000 or more in 1963, and only about 1 percent had incomes of $200,000 or more.

In current dollars, the average price of all new homes built in 1963 was $166,466. Even in upper-income Chevy Chase, Maryland, homes sold for $351,000, on average, in current dollars. Today, the average price of homes in Chevy Chase is nearly $1.5 million.

Reflecting the culture of the times, only two members of President Dwight Eisenhower’s initial cabinet had been born into affluent families. As Murray writes, “The others included two sons of farmers, the son of a bank cashier, the son of a teacher, the daughter of the only lawyer in a tiny Texas town, and the son of parents so poor that he had to drop out of high school to help support them.”

Surprisingly, JFK’s cabinet also was not dominated by elites. Attorney General Robert Kennedy was rich and Harvard-educated, and Treasury Secretary Douglas Dillon was a full-fledged member of The Establishment; but three cabinet members were sons of small farmers (a tenant farmer, in one case), one member was the son of a sales manager of a shoe company, another was the son of an owner of a struggling menswear store, still another was the son of an immigrant factory worker, and yet another was the son of an immigrant who made his living peddling produce.

By 2012, the working-class residents of Fishtown and the upper-middle-class residents of Belmont had grown apart, not only in physical distance but also on various social measures. 

For example, 22 percent of Fishtown children were living with a lone parent who was divorced or separated. The number for Belmont was 3 percent. There were similar disparities in the number of children living with a never-married parent.

This is important because, as Murray says, the family structure that produces the best outcomes for children, on average, are two biological parents who remain married. Moynihan and Glazer said the same and criticized welfare programs for being designed in a way that reduced the incidence of two-parent families. 

After listing the positive outcomes of two biological parents, Murray goes on to say, “I know of no other set of important findings that are as broadly accepted by social scientists who follow the technical literature, liberal as well as conservative, and yet are so resolutely ignored by network news programs, editorial writers for the major newspapers, and politicians of both political parties.”

In Fishtown, 53 percent of families had a head of household who worked 40 or more hours a week. In Belmont, 87 percent did. A contributing factor for the fewer hours worked in Fishtown could be the fact that there was a seven-fold increase between 1960 and 2012 in the percent of the labor force receiving federal disability benefits.

Fishtown residents also tend to lack social trust and social capital. They are significantly more likely than Belmont residents to feel isolated and disengaged from the community and to see others as untrustworthy, unfair, and unhelpful.

Homogamy comes into play in the foregoing differences between Fishtown and Belmont. This refers to the interbreeding of individuals with like characteristics, such as education and cognitive abilities. Over the years, college graduates grew more likely to marry college graduates, and those who graduated from elite colleges were more likely to marry graduates of elite colleges. At the same time, high school dropouts were more likely to marry other high school dropouts.

This increase in educational and cognitive homogamy has tended to lock in the advantages of elites across generations and to widen the class divide. Income redistribution and confiscatory estate taxes won’t change this dynamic.

Murray enters the minefield of IQ by comparing the IQ of children with the education level of their parents. As used in this context, IQ is not a genetic determinant but a measure of how well children do on intelligence tests, which in turn is a predictor of how well they will do in school. Murray includes this table:

 

Parents’ Education Expected IQ of the Child
Two high school dropouts 94
Two high school diplomas 101
Two college degrees (and no more) 109
Two graduate degrees 116
Two degrees from an elite college 121

I would add that increased education has resulted in technological advances and wealth but hasn’t necessarily resulted in better wisdom, foresight, or leadership—as evidenced by the state of the nation. Moreover, many jobs that require a college degree today were held by non-degreed incumbents in the past and performed just as effectively, if not more effectively. For evidence of that, consider the Second World War, which required massive increases in industrial output and extremely complicated logistical planning and execution. It was fought to a successful end by the US in just four years after Pearl Harbor, or a fifth of the time that the US fought to an impasse in Afghanistan.

The wealthy and well-educated now live in socioeconomic cocoons, where they are out of touch with working stiffs and tend to stereotype them negatively—an attitude that is sensed by the working stiffs, who react and vote accordingly, which goes a long way in explaining their loyalty to Donald Trump. Ironically, Trump is from the upper class, attended an elite college, and had lived, and currently lives, in a SuperZip.

I’ll end here with Murray’s prediction in 2012 about what the divide would look like in 2020:

The United States is stuck with a large and growing lower class that is able to care for itself only sporadically and inconsistently. Its concentration in Fishtown puts more and more pressure on the remaining Fishtown families who are trying to hold the line.

The new upper class has continued to prosper as the dollar value of the talents they bring to the economy has continued to grow. With increased wealth, the prices that members of the new upper class are willing to pay for a home in the right kind of place have risen even more, and less affluent residents who still provided some [socioeconomic] diversity within the SuperZips in 2010 have moved out, and the uniformity of very affluent, very highly educated populations within the SuperZips has increased. The proportion of the new upper class who are in the third generation of upper-class upbringing has increased, and with that increase has come increasing ignorance of the world outside their bubble.

Liberals in the new upper class continue to support the adoption of the European model, as they have for decades. Conservatives in the new upper class still contribute to conservative candidates, but they are no more willing to preach what they practice than those on the Left.

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Are you fed up? Are you worried that America in rapidly sliding into a neo-Marxist state by the radical left in control of Washington with historically narrow majorities in the U.S. House and Senate and an Executive controlled by unnamed far leftists in place of a clinically incompetent President Biden? They are desperate to keep power and complete their radical progressive agenda that will change America and our liberty forever.

Americans just witnessed the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 without one Republican vote in the U.S. Senate and House (just as Obamacare was passed in 2010). The IRS  will be hiring 87,000 new agents, many armed, to terrorize American taxpayers.

Americans witnessed the FBI raid at the Trump Mar-A-Lago home and property of President Trump, truly a first in all of American history. We know what that is about. 

It is undeniable that the Democrat Party and the administrative state (the executive branches of the DOJ, FBI, IRS, et al) are clear and present dangers to our Republic and our liberty as they increasingly veer further away from the rule of law and the Constitution. What is the solution? At this critical juncture, there is only one action we can all take.

The only viable and timely solution at this critical point is to vote – yes, vote correctly and smartly to retake the U.S. House and Senate on November 8th and to prepare the way to retake the White House in two years. Vote and help everyone you know to vote. Please click the TAKE ACTION link below – we must vote correctly and in great numbers to be sure our votes are counted to diminish the potential for the left to rig and steal the midterms and the 2024 elections as they are clearly intending to do after their success in 2020.

 

 

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