Fishtown slides

While college-educated professionals are thriving, the white working-class is sliding into underclass behavior, writes Charles Murray in Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.  In affluent “Belmont,” most people marry before having children, work and obey the law. In working-class “Fishtown,” the “founding virtues” have eroded.

Belmont and Fishtown are parting ways, writes sociologist Nathan Glazer in Education Next.

A 10 percent difference between Belmont and Fishtown in marriage rates in 1960 expanded to a 35 percent difference in 2010. In the census that year, only  “48 percent of prime-age whites in Fishtown were married, compared to 84 percent in 1969.” Related disparities arose in births out of marriage and in children living with a single parent—not much change in Belmont, a great change in Fishtown: almost 30 percent of white births are now nonmarital, up from just a few percent in 1960.

On work, Murray notes the great increase in the percentage of the population on disability payments, from under 1 to more than 5 percent of the labor force, and the growth in the number of prime-age males who are not in the labor force, contrasted with almost all in the labor force in 1960. On chart after chart reporting work behavior, we find stability in Belmont, with almost all males at work, a striking contrast to the large absence from the labor force, willed or unwilled, in Fishtown.

Fishtowners are much more likely to do prison time and less likely to go to church than in 1960.

While 90 percent of Belmont residents vote in a presidential election, only 51 percent in Fishtown voted in 1988, down from 70 percent in 1968, with a modest rise in 2008.

“People can generally be trusted” believed more than 75 percent in Belmont in 1970, contrasted with 45 percent in Fishtown. In 2010, 60 percent in Belmont still concurred, but Fishtown was down to 20 percent, Glazer writes.

Is it a decline in virtue or in good union-wage-paying manufacturing jobs? Murray says virtue. Glazer isn’t so sure.

Public schools should “resist the prevailing nonjudgmentalism and try to restore some of the moral authoritativeness practiced in the past and that we see today in many successful charter schools,” writes Glazer.

About Joanne


  1. facebook_happyelf.homeschool says:

    My 17-year-old is disabled enough that he has never learnt to read despite our/the school’s efforts. He could conceivably hold down a job sweeping floors or doing simple factory work. Such work is simply unavailable at a pay level/full time basis that would enable him to live independently. I should imagine that there are plenty of people out there with similar stories. I don’t think there was ever a Utopian time during which people with disabilities were able to secure full-time jobs and an independent lifestyle without help, but as the world has gotten more complex (credit card applications, medical forms, job applications and the like) people like my son are unable to navigate without help from the community.

    I know most people aren’t disabled like my son, but I do imagine that 50 years ago that there was less “disability” not because people have changed, but the intricacies of “how to live in this world” certainly have.

    • I think that there are probably many who could hold at least a part-time job and contribute to their own support. I’ve seen a number in various food-service jobs, bagging groceries and similar jobs. We have friends with cognitively handicapped adult kids at home, who will never be able to live alone but do work full-time.

  2. Leftist elites have wildly succeeded in dismantling our Judaeo-Christian values, and the chickens have been coming home to roost. Rugged individualism, the work ethic, religion and a host of others I can’t think of right now have been destroyed by liberalism, both theological and political. The family is an endangered species, now that the taboo against shacking-up has been eradicated, and single pregnant females feel no shame while male sperm donors feel no responsibility. The old taboos no longer exist. But a new taboo has taken the old ones’ places. The only taboo in American society today is racial. The worst crime anyone can commit is being a “racist.” Beyond that everything is permitted and nothing really matters.

    The fall of a nation begins in the homes of its people. -Ashanti proverb

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      The point of Murray’s Belmont/Fishtown story is that the family is not an endangered species. It continues to prosper in Belmont but it is having major problems in Fishtown.

      Parents in Belmont very much don’t want their daughters to get pregnant or their sons to impregnate before they are economically ready to take responsibility for kids. Their kids grow up with those expectations.

      However, Belmont’s parents don’t “preach what they practice.” If they watch Jerry Springer or Maury Povitch as a guilty pleasure (“Tiffany says her sister’s husband got her pregnant; he denies it and is here to take a paternity test.”), they will call the guests tacky but they won’t call them immoral. And they certainly don’t believe in publicly shaming them.

      Now, if they smoked cigarettes …