There is an interesting, albeit somewhat depressing, lead article in the new March issue of The Atlantic. In it, author Don Peck lays out a future of prolonged economic stagnation and continued high levels of unemployment.
Of most relevance for readers of this blog are the sections about the impact on working class and lower-income men and the impact that is having on families and neighborhoods:
Communities with large numbers of unmarried, jobless men take on an unsavory character over time. Edin’s research team spent part of last summer in Northeast and South Philadelphia, conducting in-depth interviews with residents.
She says she was struck by what she saw: “These white working-class communities—once strong, vibrant, proud communities, often organized around big industries—they’re just in terrible straits. The social fabric of these places is just shredding. There’s little engagement in religious life, and the old civic organizations that people used to belong to are fading. Drugs have ravaged these communities, along with divorce, alcoholism, violence. I hang around these neighborhoods in South Philadelphia, and I think, ‘This is beginning to look like the black inner-city neighborhoods we’ve been studying for the past 20 years.’
When young men can’t transition into formal-sector jobs, they sell drugs and drink and do drugs. And it wreaks havoc on family life. They think, ‘Hey, if I’m 23 and I don’t have a baby, there’s something wrong with me.’ They’re following the pattern of their fathers in terms of the timing of childbearing, but they don’t have the jobs to support it. So their families are falling apart—and often spectacularly.”
But equally important are the sections about the impact this is having on college-educated youth.
According to a recent Pew survey, 10 percent of adults younger than 35 have moved back in with their parents as a result of the recession. But that’s merely an acceleration of a trend that has been under way for a generation or more. By the middle of the aughts, for instance, the percentage of 26-year-olds living with their parents reached 20 percent, nearly double what it was in 1970. Well before the recession began, this generation of young adults was less likely to work, or at least work steadily, than other recent generations.
When experienced workers holding prestigious degrees are taking unpaid internships, not much is left for newly minted B.A.s. Yet if those same B.A.s don’t find purchase in the job market, they’ll soon have to compete with a fresh class of graduates—ones without white space on their résumé to explain. This is a tough squeeze to escape, and it only gets tighter over time.
Strong evidence suggests that people who don’t find solid roots in the job market within a year or two have a particularly hard time righting themselves. In part, that’s because many of them become different—and damaged—people. Krysia Mossakowski, a sociologist at the University of Miami, has found that in young adults, long bouts of unemployment provoke long-lasting changes in behavior and mental health. “Some people say, ‘Oh, well, they’re young, they’re in and out of the workforce, so unemployment shouldn’t matter much psychologically,’” Mossakowski told me. “But that isn’t true.”
The lessons of these combined passages are clear. If neighborhood-focused initiatives like Promise Neighborhoods are to succeed, they must be more than about "cradle-to-college." They must be about "cradle-to-career," and they must be accompanied by a strategy for creating and saving jobs -- for both people who go to college and those who don't.
Perhaps one of the biggest tragedies to befall inner-city neighborhoods in recent decades was the collapse of American manufacturing. Free-trade policies that promote continued trade deficits in good times and bad have had an enormously negative impact on manufacturing and the inner-city social fabric. The few retraining programs created to address this have been all but meaningless in their impact. If we don't address the underlying problem of jobs then programs like Promise Neighborhoods, no matter how well designed, will fail.