Working-Class Communities: Splitting at the Seams

Chuck Colson

Working-Class Communities: Splitting at the Seams

Yesterday on BreakPoint, I talked about Charles Murray’s controversial new book Coming Apart.

Murray makes the convincing case that since the 1960s, there has been a growing and frightening cultural divide between middle-to-upper-class communities and working-class communities.

Where marriage rates and religious attendance in the upper-class communities have slid a little over the past four decades, they’ve absolutely plummeted in working-class communities.

The economic and cultural situation in working-class communities has also deteriorated dramatically.

Why are working-class communities literally falling apart?

Well, there are no simple answers, but it’s vital that we Christians understand some of the underlying causes.

As I discussed yesterday on my “Two-Minute Warning,” which you can still see at, one reason is a result of the dramatic shift in government policies toward the poor during the 1960s. The Great Society helped to create an entitlement mentality. Those in unfortunate circumstances are told they are victims of larger forces over which they have no control, so they must look to and rely on the government for aid. The entitlement mentality destroys self-respect, motivation, and civic duty.

There’s another factor involved: the collapse of the manufacturing base in America. The lack of good jobs puts incredible strains on communities. If you doubt that, read Nick Reding’s profoundly disturbing book, Methland: the Death and Life of a Small Town. Reding showed what happened to a small Iowa town when the local food plant, which paid its workers a decent wage plus benefits, was sold to a major food conglomerate, which laid off workers, slashed the wages of others by nearly two-thirds and eliminated benefits. The results were catastrophic.

But, as David Brooks points out in his excellent New York Times piece, cultural breakdown is not the result of economic determinism. “The American social fabric,” Brooks writes, “is now so depleted that even if manufacturing jobs miraculously came back we still would not be producing enough stable, skilled workers to fill them.” He continued, “It’s not enough just to have economic growth policies. The country also needs to rebuild orderly communities.”

I couldn’t agree more. Brooks argues we need to build “organizations and structures that induce people to behave responsibly rather than irresponsibly.”

I would say that we should re-build these structures. Toqueville famously wrote about the civic and religious organizations that dotted the American landscape for most of our history, he describes this in his landmark work Democracy in America: talking about how Americans banded together — not relying solely on government — but they went out and built hospitals, schools, mutual aid societies, and charities.

Yes, the cultural slide is acute in working-class America. The problem is enormous, but every long journey begins with a small step. And that step for us Christians to get out of the pews and into the streets, reaching out to those in need, to struggling families, and investing ourselves into rebuilding those institutions that make our communities strong and healthy.

Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media and print.

Publication dateFebruary 23, 2012