You needn't be too oberservant to notice a cultural shift compared to some 30 years ago. Making my way through a host of rural towns in the past 20 years, my observation is that loss of heavy manufacturing, mining and other high-wage employment has made for a downshift in rural wages, where the labor force has fewere options to find new employment. In the void of declining heavy manufacturing came light manufacturing (that's easily turned off when the economy falters) warehousing, and other employment that offers much lower wages and often times, less steady work. The result is a workforce that never quite finds traction. This isn't any particularly keen insight, I know.
Reading this piece by Roger Selbert brings up several questions about how rural communities will navigate the future under the socio-economic realities plowing our way.
Particularly, how does the connectedness of a rural community dampen the effect of the social isolation described in these points by Selbert? Or does it?
Declining Social Cohesion
In a recent lecture at the American Enterprise Institute, Charles Murray gave a preview of his forthcoming book, “Coming Apart at the Seams.” His thesis: America has never been a classless society, but over the last half century the United States has developed new lower and upper classes that diverge on core behaviors and values to an unprecedented degree. The divergence of America into these separate classes is different in kind from anything America has ever known, maintains Murray, and if it continues, will end “the American way of life.”
What has Murray so troubled are disconcerting trends in the white working class, for if things are bad in the lower middle class, things can’t be good in the country as a whole. Looking at America’s four essential Founding virtues (Industriousness, Honesty, Marriage, and Religiosity), Murray finds widening gaps between the upper-middle and working classes:
Marriage: In 1960, 88% of the upper-middle class was married, versus 83% of the working class, a negligible 5% gap. Today, 83% of the upper-middle class is married, but among the working class, marriage has collapsed: only 48% are married. That’s a revolutionary change, as is the percentage of children born to working class single women (from 6% to nearly 50% in the last 50 years).
Industriousness: The percentage of working class males not in the workforce went from 5% in 1968 to 12% in 2008. Among those with jobs, the percentage working less than 40 hours a week increased from 13% in 1960 to 21% in 2008.
Religiosity: The percentage of Americans saying they have no religion increased from 4% in 1972 to 21% in 2010. A substantial majority of the upper-middle class (58%) retains some meaningful form of religious involvement, whereas a substantial majority of the working class (61%) does not.
Honesty: The great increases in crime and incarceration over the past decades have overwhelmingly victimized working class communities, while hardly touching upper-middle class communities.