Demographics Americana

An interesting piece from the Washington Post notes that there is now a broad decline across the broad spectrum of the lower to lower-middle class of America. The article notes correctly that this downturn preceded the current recession/depression. While the article correctly notes our previous propensity for borrowing our way out of problems, it ignores the wage leveling effects of global competition, immigration, and the lump that is the the baby boom cohort.

It also does not address that to some extent, the prevalence of higher degrees is not a sign of more education per se, but an outgrowth of a credentialing crises. As upper end positions within the normal hierarchy become hard to get, there is a race toward increased credentials by those who want to grab up these positions. Jack Goldstone noted that under similar demographics, this occurred in late 17th century England: so it is not a new phenomena.

The social pathologies long associated with the inner-city poor – single-parent households, births out of wedlock, drug and alcohol abuse – now stalk the white working class in rural and post-industrial regions far removed from big cities. The middle is falling. Rich Lowry, editor of the conservative National Review, has noted that as wages and employment levels have fallen for the Americans who have graduated high school but not college, their level of out-of-wedlock births (44 percent) has approached that of Americans who haven’t completed high school (54 percent). Americans with college diplomas or more, by contrast, have a rate of just 6 percent.

The great sociologist William Julius Wilson has long argued that the key to the unraveling of the lives of the African American poor was the decline in the number of “marriageable males” as work disappeared from the inner city. Much the same could now be said of working-class whites in neighborhoods that may not look like the ghettos of Cleveland or Detroit but in which productive economic activity is increasingly hard to find.