Don Peck's Atlantic Unemployment Cover Story: Where's The I-Word?
Print Friendly and PDF

The Democrats' loss of the Massachusetts Senate seat long held by Teddy Kennedy has driven Washington, which had spent most of the last couple of years worrying about subsidizing Wall Street and socializing health care, into finally starting to think about jobs.

It's about time. The March issue of The Atlantic features Don Peck's long, well-researched, and deeply depressing cover story How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America. Peck reports:

"[Men have] suffered roughly three-quarters of the 8 million job losses since the beginning of 2008 … In November, 19.4 percent of all men in their prime working years, 25 to 54, did not have jobs, the highest figure since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking the statistic in 1948."

The implications, as Peck explains, are baleful:

"… this era of high joblessness is probably just beginning. Before it ends, it will likely … leave an indelible imprint on many blue-collar men. It could cripple marriage as an institution in many communities. It may already be plunging many inner cities into a despair not seen for decades."

Despite the gravity of the unemployment problem, there has been almost zero discussion in the Main Stream Media of the role of immigration policy in how we got here—and how changes in immigration policy could help get us out of this jam.

After Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) responded to Scott Brown's election by announcing he was fast-tracking a bipartisan jobs bill, eight Republican Senators released a joint letter to Reid with their suggestions. Sen. Jeff Sessions, who did so much to save America from the Bush-Kennedy-McCain amnesty bills of 2006 and 2007, and his seven colleagues recommended a half-dozen commonsense steps for reducing unemployment among American citizens by more effectively enforcing laws against illegal immigration.

Keep in mind, these Republicans' letter didn't even mention anything about legal immigration—such as imposing a temporary moratorium until the employment problem clears up.

Of course, none of the Patriotic Eight's illegal immigration reforms made Reid's bill, which turned out to be the usual Official Bipartisan Consensus of spending increases and tax cuts. (As of Sunday morning, that bill's progress had stalled due to squabbling.)

And almost none of the press coverage about unemployment mentions immigration.

For example, Ed Rubenstein has been tracking on for years the closest the federal government will come to measuring the impact of immigration on jobs: the ratio of Hispanic to non-Hispanic jobholders. Last Tuesday, Ed reported that Hispanic employment is up 22.4 percent since January 2001, while non-Hispanic employment is down 2.5 percent.

How often have you ever heard that figure echoed in the Establishment press?

Or consider how immigration is the missing element in Peck's article in The Atlantic on the impact of unemployment. Peck, the deputy managing editor of The Atlantic, clearly did an admirable amount of work on the topic. For example, many of the points Peck makes about how long term male joblessness will exacerbate dysfunctional family trends that were well under way during the Housing Bubble are outstanding, if I say so myself.

In fact, I more or less have said so myself many times in articles on affordable family formation on

According to Peck, high unemployment means marriage rates will decline further:

"Studies have shown that even small changes in income have significant effects on marriage rates among the poor and the lower-middle class. 'It's simply not respectable to get married if you don't have a job …'"

But although I've been remarking on this for years, I certainly wasn't the first to notice it.

Ben Franklin was.

Affordable family formation—the observation that America has been a relatively happy place because marriage and children were made affordable by our historical legacy of abundant, and thus cheap, land plus scarce, and thus well-paid, workers—is the oldest social science theory in American history. America's most valuable thinker, Benjamin Franklin, devised it in 1751 in his essay Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind: "When families can be easily supported, more persons marry, and earlier in life."

Unfortunately, it's also perhaps the least known breakthrough in our intellectual history. Franklin's great insight about the fundamental cause of American prosperity—our big, empty continent—has been shoved down the memory hole, in part because Ben stated clearly its logical corollary: limiting immigration would increase the happiness of Americans.

While marriage today remains restricted to those who can afford it, fertility, as I've also pointed out, does not. Peck notes:

"Childbearing is the opposite story. The stigma against out-of-wedlock children has by now largely dissolved in working-class communities … Christina Gibson-Davis, a public-policy professor at Duke University, recently found that among adults with no college degree, changes in income have no bearing at all on rates of childbirth."

This ongoing disconnection of marriage and baby carriage is very bad news. Peck says:

"By the time the average out-of-wedlock child has reached the age of 5, his or her mother will have had two or three significant relationships with men other than the father, and the child will typically have at least one half sibling. This kind of churning is terrible for children …"

W. Bradford Wilcox, head of the U. of Virginia's National Marriage Project, asserts:

"We could be headed in a direction where, among elites, marriage and family are conventional, but for substantial portions of society, life is more matriarchal."

 "Matriarchal" is a euphemism for the kind of familial disorder that plagues black America, the Caribbean, and Sub-Saharan Africa.. Kathryn Edin, a Harvard professor of public policy, worries:

"These white working-class communities—once strong, vibrant, proud communities, often organized around big industries—they're just in terrible straits. … I hang around these neighborhoods in South Philadelphia, and I think, 'This is beginning to look like the black inner-city neighborhoods we've been studying for the past 20 years.'"

Could white working class areas in the U.S. go part way toward the social decay of black slums?

Judging from Britain's experience, the danger is real. The severe unemployment seen in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s appears to have helped midwife the emergence of a white "chav" culture of illegitimacy, binge drinking, and burglary that flourished through the English boom of the last decade. The recent media tizzy in the U.S. over the hit MTV reality show Jersey Shore, which showcased the proudly moronic Staten Island equivalents of chavs, suggests that our culture could be ripe for a similar degradation.

Edin argues:

"When young men can't transition into formal-sector jobs, they sell drugs and drink and do drugs. And it wreaks havoc on family life. They think, 'Hey, if I'm 23 and I don't have a baby, there's something wrong with me.' They're following the pattern of their fathers in terms of the timing of childbearing, but they don't have the jobs to support it. So their families are falling apart—and often spectacularly."

Peck concludes:

"We are living through a slow-motion social catastrophe, one that could stain our culture and weaken our nation for many, many years to come. We have a civic—and indeed a moral—responsibility to do everything in our power to stop it now, before it gets even worse."


So, in light of how severe the situation is, can we now, finally, talk about immigration?

Apparently not.

A quarter of a millennium after Franklin explained the economic impact of immigration, Peck is intellectually shackled by the code of silence prevailing around the topic today. He only mentions immigration twice in his ten thousand-word article.

  • First, he cites sociologist William Julius Wilson's research on the disastrous ramifications of black men exiting the work force. (In 1960, 90 percent of black men were employed versus only 76 percent in prosperous 2000.)

Peck paraphrases Wilson on how new competition for jobs worsened black behavior:

"… downwardly mobile black men often resented the new work they could find, and displayed less flexibility on the job than, for instance, first-generation immigrant workers. As a result, employers began to prefer hiring women and immigrants, and a vicious cycle of resentment, discrimination, and joblessness set in."

Presumably, Prof. Wilson can afford to mention the I-word because he's 74-years-old, tenured at Harvard, and black.

  • Secondly, toward the end, Peck himself cites Harvard economic historian Benjamin Friedman worrying that "When material progress falters … anti-immigrant sentiment typically increases …"

In other words, Peck (and Friedman) appear to think that the point of Americans having jobs is that then we can afford immigration.

American public debate is so stultified by this immigration omerta that a couple of allusions to immigration over 10,000 words might be considered progress toward a new era of intellectual realism.

But Peck himself claims we're facing a "New Jobless Era". How long does it have to go on for before our political class can bring itself to consider some new (or at least repressed) ideas?

 Ask The Atlantic

[Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative. His website features his daily blog. His new book, AMERICA'S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA'S "STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE", is available here.]

Print Friendly and PDF