In his column at the Chicago Tribune, Clarence Page assesses the widening cultural gap not only between blacks and whites but also the rich and the poor after reading Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 by conservative scholar Charles Murray. Page concludes that the divide between the rich and poor has to be narrowed, but how?
Our national civic culture is splitting apart, he finds, between the rich folks in "Belmont," the elite upper 20 percent of the nation's income earners, and the working-class bottom 30 percent that he calls "Fishtown."
The resulting culture gap, in his view, erodes family unity, undermines civic spirit and threatens the "American way of life" more than that other gap that's making headlines in this election year, income inequality.
I have some disagreements with Murray's conclusions, which I soon will elaborate, but his white-centric focus offers valuable surprises. For starters, it reveals how, as factory jobs disappeared in America's post-1960s economy, life in Fishtown has suffered ill effects similar to those that have devastated family life and the work ethic in many low-income black households.
Today's working-class white Americans, Murray's research shows, are less committed to the workforce than their elders were. They get into more trouble with the law, and their out-of-wedlock birth rates are soaring.
For example, among Fishtown's unmarried white women who have less than 12 years of schooling, non-marital births have risen to more than 65.4 percent of total births by 2010.
I would add, that's just a few points below the 67 percent overall rate that has been reported among single black women in recent years.
Read Clarence Page's entire column at the Chicago Tribune.