Wall Street Journal, March 18, 2012.
Some reviewers of “Coming Apart,” my new book about the growing cultural divide between America’s upper and lower classes, have faulted me for ignoring the role of the labor market in undermining once widely shared values involving marriage and hard work.
As these critics see it, the loss of our common culture is a result not of cultural changes but of shifts in policy and the economy. Over the past four decades, they argue, the U.S. has shipped high-paying manufacturing jobs overseas and undermined the labor unions that could protect workers’ pay and benefits. Working-class earnings fell more than 20% from their high point in 1973, men were no longer able to support families, and marriage eroded accordingly. Demoralized workers fell out of the labor force. The problems of the new lower class would fade away, they suggest, if only we would use public policy to generate working-class jobs at good wages.