Charles Murray: "The State of White America"
April 06, 2011, 01:22 AM
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There`s no transcript yet available for Charles Murray`s speech yesterday on "The State of White America," so I`ll post approximate renderings of some key points from the first half of the video.

Murray`s speech (and upcoming book) is about growing class differences in America over the last half century. While Murray is an Emmanuel Goldstein figure to most people who haven`t actually read his books, his political orientation is that of a Jeffersonian egalitarian. He likes a middle class society.

To avoid apples to oranges comparisons, Murray is focusing his analysis of increasing class divides on non-Hispanic whites ages 30-49, contrasting the upper 20% (the upper middle class) to the bottom 30% (the working class), as measured in terms of, I believe, education and occupation.

  • For example, the being-married rate among upper middle class whites has fallen only trivially from 88% in 1960 to 83% in 2010. Among the bottom 30%, however, the being-married rate has dropped from 83% to 48%.
  • More data from Murray on the growth of class divides using apples to apples comparisons of non-Hispanic whites in their thirties and forties. Among the bottom 30% of whites, the illegitimacy rate was 6% in 1960 and approaching 50% in 2010.
  • Among white men in their 30s and 40s, in 1960 1.5% of the top 20% were out of the workforce (i.e., working or looking for work) and 2% now. For white men in the bottom 30%, looking at the economic peaks in 1968 and 2008, the non-working rate went from 5% to 12%. The out-of-the-labor rate is even worse now during the recession, of course.
  • Among working class men with jobs, the percent working less than 40 hours per week went from 13% to 21%.
  • Crime victimizes the bottom ranks of society. One of the dirty little secrets of the last 50 years is that upper middle class suburbs weren`t dangerous in 1960 and they aren`t dangerous now.
  • A substantial majority of the upper middle class retains effective religious involvement, while a substantial majority of the white working class does not. It`s another case of data not matching popular impressions. ... Among those with a religion, fundamentalism is increasing. But, actual religious involvement in the working class is plummeting.
  • That`s the bad news. The good news is that upper middle class is doing pretty well. The bad news is that within the upper middle class, we are developing a new upper class.
  • Murray ranks all the zip codes in the DC area on their social class relative to all the zip codes in the country. Georgetown is at the 99.6th percentile, while unfashionable Kensington is at the 96.9th percentile. In other words, Murray goes on, practically everybody in the room at AEI listening to his speech lives in a neighborhood where the average white person is vastly higher in social class than the national average.

Video here.

One bit of good news is that Murray`s 1993 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, "The Coming White Underclass," doesn`t seem to have really happened yet. In 1993, Murray wrote:

An underclass needs a critical mass, and white America has not had one.

But now the overall white illegitimacy rate is 22%. The figure in low-income, working-class communities may be twice that. How much illegitimacy can a community tolerate? Nobody knows, but the historical fact is that the trendlines on black crime, dropout from the labor force, and illegitimacy all shifted sharply upward as the overall black illegitimacy rate passed 25%.

The causal connection is murky — I blame the revolution in social policy during that period, while others blame the sexual revolution, broad shifts in cultural norms, or structural changes in the economy. But the white illegitimacy rate is approaching that same problematic 25% region at a time when social policy is more comprehensively wrongheaded than it was in the mid-1960s, and the cultural and sexual norms are still more degraded.

The white underclass will begin to show its face in isolated ways. Look for certain schools in white neighborhoods to get a reputation as being unteachable, with large numbers of disruptive students and indifferent parents. Talk to the police; listen for stories about white neighborhoods where the incidence of domestic disputes and casual violence has been shooting up. Look for white neighborhoods with high concentrations of drug activity and large numbers of men who have dropped out of the labor force. Some readers will recall reading the occasional news story about such places already.

Murray`s speech seems to suggest that the growth of white underclass neighborhoods hasn`t really happened. There are lots of white people who are basically underclass, but they generally don`t form large blighted neighborhoods, but are more dispersed, being propped up perhaps by family members.

I think a few things have happened to head off his prediction. There was the welfare reform of 1995 that removed a lot of the economic rationality subsidizing an underclass life. Another thing is that there has been so much churning of the population that neighborhoods that could go white underclass tend to go Hispanic, or in the case of Charlestown from The Town, gentrify.

I don`t really know. In the San Fernando Valley, for example, there is a single middle school that`s notorious for white biker types, where parents with prison tattoos show up drunk for conferences with their kids` teachers. But even that school is less than half white these days. In the Valley, the white underclass either leaves or gets Hispanicized, so I couldn`t really say.