What Wasn’t Said about Mobility in this Year’s Elections?

Editor’s Note: One of the most important themes in last month’s elections had to do with the many millions of Americans who believe they are stuck in place occupationally and in just about every other way.  Two years ago American Experiment Founder Mitch Pearlstein wrote a book in which a key chapter was, in fact, titled “Stuck in Place?”  It argued that massive family fragmentation (also known as “family breakdown”) had a significant, albeit certainly not exclusive, amount to do with constricted economic and social mobility, along with its resulting frustration and anger. 

Jumping ahead to this year, one would have been hard-pressed to find a single comment by any of the leading presidential candidates, regardless of party, about how huge numbers of young – as well as substantially older – people are faring poorly, in measurable part, because of exorbitant rates of nonmarital births and divorce. 

Dr. Pearlstein’s book was Broken Bonds: What Family Fragmentation Means for America’s Future.  It was released in 2014 after he spent a year between 2012 and 2013 interviewing forty scholars, business leaders, political leaders, jurists and others from coast to coast. 

He talked with these distinguished and diverse men and women about a wide range of societal troubles they saw as at least partially caused or exacerbated by family fragmentation.  Their observations were critical since problems resulting from fragmentation tend to reinforce themselves, which is to say worsen over time.  Or as one of his interviewees, cultural historian Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, said: “Not only are there growing divisions as to who marries, leading to wildly diverging family lives for kids, but advantage replicates advantage and disadvantage is replicated generationally.” 

Given recent electoral and other events, we thought you might like to take a look at a slightly abridged version of the chapter in question, “Stuck in Place?”

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How will Americans who grow up with measurably less support than that of fellow citizens, fare in coming years?  What are their chances of working their way up, first educationally and then occupationally?  If their chances are abridged, how does that endanger the fluidity and dream of American mobility?  Would the United States still stand as the world’s iconic “Land of Opportunity” for them?   For our purposes this chapter, “measurably less support” means living as a young child or adolescent only intermittently, if ever, with a married mother and father.  “Fellow citizens” refers to men and women who reach 18 with their parents having been married throughout.

As noted once again, I’m not interested in arguing over the precise degree to which economic mobility has slowed in the United States because of family fragmentation or any other reason – if it has slowed dramatically at all.  This is the case for no other reason than I have neither the skills nor tools for such calculating.  Rather, I’m interested in the ways in which men and women with weak educations and, thereby, quite likely weak job skills might do in a job market that promises to grow (or threatens to grow) increasingly demanding because of persistently tougher domestic and international competition.

More to the point, I’m interested in how 40 well-informed respondents size up the entropy of family fragmentation in terms of its educational and occupational reach in the lives of great numbers of men and women.

What is the proportion of Americans, more or less, who are increasingly threatened by cramped opportunity?  One division of labor has the split at one and ninety-nine, as in a royal one percent of wealthiest Americans doing a job on the plebian rest.  As rallying as this might be in some quarters, it’s a meaningless breakdown given that the proportion of men and women doing extraordinary well in the United States is many times bigger than a lone percent.

In rounded terms, about 30 percent of adult Americans have at least a four-year college degree.  Nearly 60 percent of adults have graduated high school but do not have a baccalaureate.  This leaves about 10-12 percent who have neither graduated high school nor earned a GED later on.  But given the way the marital and non-marital patterns of the biggest cohort (the nearly 60 percent) are increasingly resembling those of lower-income men and women, concern is warranted for what only can be described as a significant swath of us.  This is an amazing but inescapable conclusion, reinforced by the fact that “a young couple marrying for the first time today has only about a 50 percent chance of remaining together through life.”[i]  Adding to the scary, more than 40 percent of American babies already come into this world outside of marriage.  Or as David Blankenhorn put it, “I don’t see how we can remain a majority middle-class society without a majority-married society.”

Economist Isabel Sawhill put matters this way in our conversation: “Growing class divisions are not just divisions of income.  It’s not just income inequality.  It’s also gaps in family formation patterns and it’s a matter of gaps in educational achievement.”

When you put all those things together, it seems to me we have a bifurcating society in which the children of very advantaged parents who are raised in stable families, who get good schooling, and who go on to be successful have very different life prospects than children who are born to single-parent families; usually to parents without much education, who don’t do well in school, and who go on to have a lot less success in life.

Let the record show that I agree with Sawhill, who has served in senior position in Democratic administrations.

Let the record also show I agree with Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist for the New York Times, in his framing of matters, this time politically.  “Yes, social issues like abortion help explain why [unmarried women] lean Democratic.  But the more important explanation is that single life is generally more insecure and chaotic than married life, and single life with children – which is now commonplace for women under 30 – is almost impossible to navigate without the support the welfare state provides.”[ii]  Douthat also writes about how those who are “unchurched” are not only “bright young atheist[s] reading Richard Dawkins,” but how they’re just as likely to be underemployed working-class men “whose secularism is less an intellectual choice than a symptom of [their] disconnection from community in general.”  (Think Charles Murray and Coming Apart once again.)

Republicans, Douthat persuasively contends, often badly understand these men, casting them as “lazy moochers or spoiled children seeking ‘gifts’ rather than recognizing the reality of their economic troubles.”  Troubles which frequently tie directly back to family fragmentation, one way or another.

Flowing from Douthat’s framing is this one by historian and interviewee Stephanie Coontz.

People are nostalgic for the 1950s and ‘60s.  There are some things I would be nostalgic for, too.  That was a period when if you were a guy and a high school dropout, you could earn a wage to support a family.  Wages for the bottom 50 percent were rising faster than for the top 20 percent and income inequality was decreasing.  There were two things, one good and one bad.  The good part was that it was really possible for a man to support a family.  The bad part was that it was impossible for a woman to support herself without getting herself a guy.  That meant that she often put up with relationships that you and I would consider absolutely unacceptable.  It’s one of those historical tradeoffs.  Domestic violence has gone way down since the 1950s and ‘60s, clearly.  When you combine a woman’s new ability to live without marriage with a man’s declining ability to provide, you get to this issue.

Coontz is right, of course, about the ability of women to now live without men, and not just by themselves but with her children as well.  An implication in this passage, however, may be that nearly all such women are able to do so because of their participation in the paid workforce.  But it has to be understood, not that Coontz would disagree, that millions of women are able to raise their children without the economic benefits of marriage only because of the dramatic expansion of the welfare state since the pivotal decades she mentions.  Public benefits, while not causing women to have babies outside of marriage, and while not causing men to abandon their responsibilities, have been enabling many women and men to do exactly those things.

Respondents, obviously, are of assorted mind regarding all of the above.  Here’s education scholar Chester E. Finn, Jr., for example, on the power of education to overcome.

“It’s incontrovertible that at the high end there’s a greater gap between the ultra-rich and everybody else.  At the same time there’s still a welcome degree of social mobility for people who get educated and work hard.  It’s possible to get ahead.  It’s possible to get your kids ahead.  I keep seeing this especially in immigrant families, as they arrive with what might be called immigrant values of working hard, keeping the grocery store open eighteen hours a day, and saving enough money to send the kids to college.”

Finn went on to tell a story about a cab ride he had taken while researching a book about selective public high schools.[iii]

I was being driven from Midtown Manhattan to Townsend Harris High School in Queens by an Indian immigrant taxi driver.  I asked if he knew, by chance, where the school was.  He said yes, as his son had just been admitted and he was clearly pleased.  I asked why he was sending his son there and he came back with two answers.  The sad one, the bleak one was that it was safer than any school in his part of town.  “You don’t have police there at the end of the day to keep gangs from fighting.”  But then he added (this could have been my grandparents speaking in 1900) “I want my son to have a better life in America than I have.  I want him to go to college.  I don’t want him to be a taxi driver.  I want him to be a success and he will be if he goes to this high school.”  The man believed that and he’s probably right.

American Experiment’s Katherine Kersten told of other cab rides but similar stories of immigrants and unacceptable neighborhood schools.

The typical cab driver who comes to get me when I go to the airport is someone from Somalia or Ghana or some other place around the world.  The drivers complain to me about what’s happening to their kids in public schools.  My heart just went out to one guy who said, “I live in Columbia Heights [an inner-ring Minneapolis suburb].  I came from Ghana ten years ago.  I’m afraid for my kids at their schools here.  Our children are well behaved.  My wife and I want the best for them.  They go to school and they see this kind of stuff.  What can I do?”  I talked to him about school choice and charter schools and I gave him my number.  I told him to please call, that I could help him find a good and safe school for his children.

When I asked education reformer Lisa Graham Keegan a cluster of questions including whether she thought the country was simply not hospitable to poor people, she allowed that, “I am impaired at all times by my optimism.  I want to believe a lot of things that may or may not be true.  I want to believe we are not afraid to allow poor people to succeed, and that we don’t believe in a zero-sum game where if you win I lose.  Although I have to say there has been more than one instance in my school choice career of really nasty conversations with suburban families who don’t want those kids in ‘our neighborhoods.’”

What about kids growing up under tough circumstances, disproportionately in single-parent homes, who manage to graduate high school and go on to college?  Once there, what are their prospects for success, broadly defined?  Broadly delimited is one answer.  Here again is Stephanie Coontz of Evergreen State College in Washington.

“If you come from a low-income neighborhood” Coontz said, “and go to a low-income school, chances are you’re not prepared for college work.  I will work for hours, one-on-one with some of these kids every week.  But, oh, my God!  They come in without any of the habits, skills, expectations, or the cultural backgrounds they need.”

Compare Coontz’s comments, especially about expectations and cultural backgrounds, with those of Columbia University’s Ron Mincy, who is African American.  “I’m the first person in my extended family to go to college.  There are a lot of unwritten rules.  A broad swath of the population will continue not being exposed to a lot of things.  Even if they have opportunities to go to college, there are lots of reasons why not having an earlier generation or two precede you means you’re not going to max out on the experience.”

Earlier in our conversation, when discussing what it takes to do superior graduate work at a place like Columbia, Mincy spoke about how there really are differences between students who do their undergraduate work at first-tier institutions as opposed to weaker places.  This shouldn’t be a surprise, but it bears noting more often than is the case.  “I’m thinking about the skills you want to acquire in order to perform really well as a professional.  The big difference I see is in writing and communication skills along with social skills that enable people to make it in the workplace.  I see significant differences between graduate students who receive their bachelor’s degree from Ivy League-caliber universities as opposed, for example, to one of the city colleges in New York.”

A few minutes before that Mincy spoke of an additional source of inequality I had never considered when it comes to college graduates.  “When my son graduated from college, I was astounded by the number of other young men who were graduating with child support orders.”  Mincy acknowledged the small sample size, but he had been taken back by how much of the new graduates’ new earning power already had been spoken for.

Returning to the full roster of respondents, after noting that more is being written than in a long time about whether income inequality is growing and mobility is decreasing in the United States, I often asked questions like these:

Where do you come down regarding current claims and arguments about mobility and inequality?

Do you see current-day American society as simply not set up economically and in other ways for more than a relative few low-income people to succeed?

Or do you see avenues of opportunity as quite open?”

Here are several of the more interesting answers, starting with Harvard historian Stephan Thernstrom, who I interviewed along with his political scientist wife Abigail Thernstrom.

Steve argued that “a lot of the concern about rising income inequality is terribly misplaced,” as calculations, he said, are usually based on pre-tax incomes.  While it’s not generally believed by the academic establishment, he continued, “It is pretty well established that if you look at inequality on an after-tax basis, the United States has one of the most progressive tax structures in the world.  We’re very similar to Norway, Sweden, and Germany.”  He also argued that most people don’t compare “the quality of their economic lives” to those of LeBron James or Bill Gates.  Similarly, he contended that if offered a choice between a bigger slice of a non-growing pie as opposed to a constant share of briskly growing one, most citizens, would pick the second option, as would he.

I agreed that most Americans had, in fact, been making that choice for a long time.  But I added that one of the driving forces of the book is that while Americans have not been particularly “envious,” in coming years, because of the combination of huge family fragmentation rates and more demanding job markets, I saw anger, frustration, and class divisions growing inevitably.  To which both Steve and Abby agreed.

NYU political scientist Lawrence Mead also challenged what might be called the prevailing narrative in academic and other circles when he argued:

The inequality question is mostly – not entirely, but mostly – the creation of intellectuals.  It’s something that liberal economists worry about.  It’s not something that average Americans worry about.  The average American is concerned about opportunity rather than equality.  He and she want a chance to get ahead and believe that they have an opportunity to do so.  They’re not so concerned about rich people making a lot of money.  The fact that inequality has grown is not a high level public concern.  The public is much more concerned about unemployment, because unemployment threatens their ability to get ahead and have a secure life.  It’s only when there are very extreme cases, or what looks like privilege on Wall Street, that the public starts seeing any connection between inequality and opportunity.

Mead allowed that the “liberal side of the spectrum” has succeeded in making a more convincing case for inequality in recent years, even though that’s not the nation’s main problem.  “What we should be worrying about much more is the breakdown of society at the bottom, and we should worry more about its social rather than the economic aspects.”  In fact, he argued, by addressing the social side of the equation, we could do a great deal to reduce inequality.  Professor Mead has written several of the most consequential books about poverty and welfare reform in the United States over the last four decades.[iv]

Lee McGrath of the Institute for Justice extends Mead’s dismissal of worries about economic inequality.  ‘“My response,”’ he said, ‘“is that completely misses the mark.  Markets are valuing talent.  These are private organizations.  They can employ who they want and they can reward who they want.  The fact that income inequality is growing is much more a product of very talented and hard-working individuals being rewarded for extraordinary dedication to their work.”

As I did with Steve and Abby Thernstrom, I told McGrath that his views may well be accurate or largely accurate on their merits, but they don’t speak to rising fear – and, thereby, the political discontent – infusing the issue.  “The Occupy Wall Street” movement, I went on, was just an early warning shot.  “Would you agree or disagree?” I asked.  “I completely disagree,” he answered, and we were off again.

“The Occupy Movement,” McGrath said, “is just street-level theater and not reflective of anything other than a media savvy response to the generally well-intentioned Tea Party Movement.”

What do the wealthy do with their money?  It’s not sitting idly in bank accounts.  In fact, it’s not in bank accounts at all.  It’s in investments and those investments are building things.  They’re building factories.  They are building service organizations.  They are employing people.  Their wealth is not stagnant and unproductive.  Quite the contrary, as it’s being reinvested in research, development, and philanthropy.  It’s dynamic and doing incredibly good things.  The good things that come from prosperity are horribly underestimated by the Left.  The return to consumers is far greater than the return to investors.

Differing, Stanford political scientist Terry Moe argued that concerns about inequality are legitimate, as growing disparities in opportunities and income are “not good for society.”

But we may be in a transition period and it’s important in many respects to go with it and not try to clamp down and stifle.  Innovation often leads to these kinds of inequities in the short term.  Maybe a hundred years from now people will look back and say, “Wow.  There was this huge shift and for a while everything was out of whack.  There were a large number of people who weren’t qualified to do the kinds of jobs available and in some sense we had a bifurcation of the labor market.  A lot of people were not getting anywhere and other people were thriving and getting paid a lot of money.  But over time people better understood where the money was and they retooled.”

Moe’s Stanford colleague, economist Eric Hanushek argued that there’s still a lot of mobility in the United States, as measured over time and it’s especially apparent in Silicon Valley.  “When you ask some of the kids what they’re going to do after graduation they say, ‘I don’t know yet.  I’m just going to start a business.’  There’s this amazing willingness to take chances and maybe win – but then again maybe not.  But around here it’s not a bad mark against you to fail.  They just say, ‘The last company I tried didn’t work.’”

At another point in our conversation, and focusing no longer on one of the world’s great geographic wellsprings of talent but rather on the economy as a whole, Hanushek argued that it will “deal with the labor force it has.  If we have low-quality workers, we’re going to have a low-quality solution to what the economy looks like.  If we have high-quality workers, the economy will adapt and produce high-quality jobs and opportunities.”   Or as he more succinctly and technically put it, “It’s all endogenous.”

In fairness in closing off this section, let’s not forget renditions of economic and social landscapes stormier than those just pictured.  Here, for example, is University of Minnesota historian Elaine Tyler May’s stark answer to a novella-length question I had just posed about familial, economic, military and other notions of security.

Once you have a Third World economic reality in the United States, which is what we have, then people become desperate for the kind of security that puts food on the table.  You’re talking jobs.  People can’t live on minimum wage jobs anymore.  Jobs are being outsourced.  I think it was Andrew Carnegie who said something about how corporate executives should never earn more than some large multiple of what their poorest paid workers got.  Whatever that number was, gaps between our best paid and worst paid workers are now much, much larger.  They’re grotesque and unethical.  Our tax structure and wage structures are messed up and they’re tearing our country apart.

Fitting here is Stephanie Coontz gentle jibe at me, “Now, this might upset you, but one problem of course is the decline of unionization.”

After I noted that she was not the first person to point this out, she added: “My dad had a high school degree but he was able to save enough to go back to school because he had a union job.  Those are so rare now.”

Also fitting is a statistical nugget reported by Ron Mincy: “The only category of American men who have earned more than their fathers since 1974 are those who have gone on to graduate school.”[v]

All of the above in this chapter, and much in previous chapters, are best understood as inquiries about opportunity.   What are the chances of making it in America in the second decade of the 21st Century?  What might it be in the future?  What does it take to succeed?  More to the point, what does it take for young people who haven’t had the luckiest starts in life to succeed, particularly those growing up in single-parent homes, perhaps exclusively?  Let’s start by spending extended time with Ron Haskins, who along with Isabel Sawhill directs the Brookings Institution’s Center on Children and Families.

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My appointment with Haskins wound up being just a couple of hours before he had an important presentation to make at Brookings.  Meaning he had only a short amount of time to talk with me.  But the subjects at hand animated him so that he just kept on talking, faster and more passionately as we went along, trying to fit everything in.   Here are excerpts from what Haskins had to say about matters of opportunity, staring with college access, but only after noting that on a scale of one to ten, family fragmentation was “probably a fifteen” when it came to problems facing the nation.

Something I try to think about as much as I can – not that I’ve reached any profound insights – is the impact of family fragmentation on opportunity.  To me, opportunity is the single most important characteristic of the “American Way” and to the nation’s credit we have created a lot of opportunities to go to college.  Part of it is governmental assistance.  I regularly take a look at College Board reports on the costs of college as well as the sources of funds for attending.  It’s over $100 billion of public money between tax breaks, grants, and loans.  Increasingly, good schools – Harvard does this already – pay for everything if you’re a minority and a good student.  You can go to college virtually free.  Places that don’t have that, have lots of scholarships.  There’s a lot of money available, not just Pell Grants, and there’s privately sponsored help as well.

I came to better realize just a few years ago that the biggest barrier to college is not “lack of access” as it’s regularly put, but rather students not learning nearly enough in K-12.  We offer a lot of remedial courses but they don’t work very well.  It’s amazing how so many problems go back to our K-12 system and preschools.  They need to be so much better.

Haskins has championed more effective early childhood programs for years.  As for the way in which poor high school performances by low-income students are, in fact, the single greatest obstacle to college enrollment, research by political scientist Jay Greene backs him up.  As Greene writes, “The number of students who enroll in [a four-year] college is very similar to the number of students who are college ready,” and that this holds true for African Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, and whites.  “The similarity between the college-eligible and college-entering populations throw the College Access Myth into a considerable level of doubt.  There is not a large pool of students who are academically prepared for college but are failing to gain admission because of inadequate affirmative action or financial aid policies.”[vi]

Ron Haskins, who knows something about government, having served as the lead Republican staffer in the House of Representative during the passage of welfare reform in 1996, concluded:

The media are full of stories about how opportunity has gone to hell.  They’re greatly exaggerated.  Between federal and state governments, we now spend a trillion dollars a year on means-tested programs.  These programs have an enormous impact on poverty rates, and while it’s harder to calculate their effects on opportunity, there certainly are some.  With the partial exception of tax breaks, we have one of the most progressive income tax codes in the world with money going disproportionately to those at the bottom.  So government does a lot.  But many people, by the way they live their lives are not cooperating.  Too many people are just not trying hard enough in school and they don’t continue their education as they should.  A lot of the things we do in government are lucky to tread water because of the lack of personal responsibility.  What’s the best path for kids?  It’s living with parents who love and guide them.  That’s their best opportunity.

Obviously again, some number of respondents would disagree with Haskins’ more individualistic as opposed to institutional conception of obstacles faced by many young as well as older people.  Or referring to the chapter’s title, they would have a different take on the degree to which millions are stuck in socioeconomic place.  They also would take doubly unkindly to his saying that one reason that he’s a Republican (albeit a self-described “moderate” one) is that Republicans are less likely to make excuses for people.  “Liberals just make so many excuses.  It’s society.  It’s government.”

In the language of real estate, Haskins’ critics would be more inclined to cite the stunting power of location, location, location, as in bad neighborhoods and other dangerous and depleting environments, than Haskins does here, not that he’s the least bit blind to their argument, disagreeing much more in degree than kind.  Roughly in this vein (perhaps very roughly), I asked some respondents what they thought former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich meant when, in effect, he spoke of distance, distance, distance.  The specific question went like this: “Robert Reich has written about the ‘secession of the successful.’  What do you think he meant by that?”  Answers didn’t vary much thematically, with this one by the Rev. Paul Allick typical.  “You tend to forget about who you left behind and you don’t want to interact in that world anymore.  That’s what it would mean to me.”

Judge Bruce Peterson said, “I suppose he means the successful are seceding from responsibility for bringing everybody along.”  He then added, “That’s why I always like going to New York.  In New York everybody is falling all over everybody.  There’s no separation there.”

Stephanie Coontz had the best rhyming answer when she quoted what her grandmother used to contemptuously call, “Get what you can.  Can it.  And then sit on the can.”

And then there was Minnesota leader Peter Bell who said pointedly from a different direction: “I think Reich means the successful are increasingly not interacting with what used to be more frequently called the ‘underclass,” and that they’re in private schools, private clubs, and gated communities.”  (The term “gated communities” came up more than once or twice.)

I suspect Reich also goes further and that he means more successful people are less empathetic and less willing to help lower-income people by paying more in taxes and the like.  It’s in keeping with the argument, for example, that if the Twin Cities had just one school district instead of dozens the fates of kids in both affluent and impoverished communities would be entwined, causing residents to more likely pay higher taxes for education.   There’s some truth to that, but it’s ultimately shallow and would not come close to resolving our education problems.  Issues with the poor rest mostly with the poor, not the wealthy.

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My conversation with Kathy Kersten about what it now takes to succeed took a novel turn when she cited the complexity of Medicare.  “Just think what it takes to help an elderly parent navigate the system.  My mother lives in a wonderful residential care facility.  She’s got six kids who help her.  We see the kind of stuff she receives, Medicare Part D and all the other parts with all kinds of complex requirements.  We think, gee, if she didn’t have us to help her get through the red tape and all those forms with small print, how would she do it?  That was not the case in her parents’ lives.  Things weren’t nearly as complicated.”

The jump from there to starting a business was short.  “The addition of layers and layers of regulations,” she said, as well as higher and higher taxes has made it increasingly difficult for ordinary people to succeed.  If a person didn’t have a college degree, he used to be able to start his own little store and make it on Main Street.  But now the extraordinary amount of OSHA requirements, EEOC requirements, health care and other rules are just overwhelming, making it difficult for small businessmen and women to succeed.”

At which point I recalled a small luncheonette my maternal grandparents owned in Brooklyn in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  They ran it despite the fact that neither of them could read, having both immigrated from rotten situations in Eastern Europe decades earlier.  Their two sons, who could read but who never graduated high school, certainly helped them.  But the remarkable fact remains that my grandfather and grandmother were able to start and successfully run a small business in this country, as recently as my childhood, without having the most basic of educational skills.

Might anything close to this be possible now?  Maybe for a tiny number of green grocers and other shop-keeping immigrants working eighteen hours a day, eight days a week.  Suffice it to say, though, what it takes to succeed in business two generations after my grandparents did so in their small way is a lot more education, education, education than used to be the case.  (Since you asked, my favorite as a five-year-old was a toasted Drake’s pound cake with ice cream.  And as someone who turned 65 while writing this book, let’s just say Medicare’s learning curve is steep.)

Given all that we have discussed about family fragmentation and associated issues, not just in this chapter but from the start, what might it all suggest for the long-term political and civic well-being of the United States?   What might it suggest for government’s future roles?   What should it suggest about government’s future roles?  That’s our next stop.


[i] R. Raley & L. Bumpass, “The Topography of the Divorce Plateau: Levels and Trends in Union Stability in the United States after 1980, Demographic Research, 8, 245-260, 2003.

[ii] Ross Douthat, New York Times, November 17, 2012.

[iii] Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Jessica A. Hockett, Exam Schools: Inside America’s Most Selective Public High Schools (Princeton: Princeton, NJ, 2012).

[iv] Here are four insightful books about poverty in the United States by Lawrence M. Mead:  Beyond Entitlement: The Social Obligations of Citizenship (Free Press, 1986); The New Politics of Poverty: The Nonworking Poor in America (Basic Books, 1992); Government Matters: Welfare Reform in Wisconsin (Princeton, 2004); and Expanding Work Programs for Poor Men (AEI, 2011).

[v] Several respondents in this and other chapters cite various statistics.  For the sake of the book’s integrity, I hope they are all on target, though as a practical matter, I cannot so vouch.

[vi] Jay P. Greene, Education Myths: What Special-Interest Groups Want You to Believe About Our Schools – and Why It Isn’t So (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005), pp. 110-11.