Robert D. Putnam was our program at Lakeside last night--he’s an entertaining, engaging speaker, about my age, married 55 years, a Harvard graduate and college professor. Even with charts and graphs that show the widening income and behavior gap between upper class (which is growing) and lower class (also growing) and middle class (shrinking) he can hold a large audience‘s attention. He clearly laid out the reasons (particularly for near-by Port Clinton, Ohio, his home town), but his solutions are what one would expect from an academic--more money for education. Twenty years ago his “Bowling alone” book showed how Americans were not pulling together in the communities, clubs, churches and fraternal societies working for the larger good as they had been in the first half of the 20th century. And that was before the me-phone.
I was shocked to learn that in 1990 Port Clinton’s out of wedlock birth rate was 9% (below the national average) and today just 25 years later is about 40% just a little less than Columbus and above Ohio’s rate. This is not Chicago or Cleveland, but little Port Clinton (ca. 6,000 population, 93% white). So guess which children are doing better in all measures? Which children are attending church and leaving Port Clinton to go to college? Children living with married parents who provide economically, spiritually, and socially for them.
And yet he wants education and government to solve this. My belief is that government has contributed to the problem with 128 transfer programs taking money from the middle class to give to the poor that would make a woman think twice or thrice before marrying a guy who cares more about cars and sports than his children, causing her to lose health and housing benefits. Marriage and responsibility help young men become grown ups; the government helps them remain adolescents until they can collect Medicare.
He noted that at the turn of the 20th century Americans decided tax supported high school was important and it made a huge difference in the lives of the poor. But for some reason I think he’s believing compulsory, government pre-schools and free college will do the same. Well, not without marriage, and not without jobs—but it will be more jobs for academics and government bureaucracies.