Sunday, September 5, 2010

When "respectability" is not a choice for you

A recent essay in Wall Street Journal by Andrew J. Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins, and W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, connects the dots between job insecurity, marriage rates, and religious practice for working-class Americans.

In "The Generation that Can't Move On Up," they report that without a path into the wages and job security once possible for those without a college diploma, that is, "slightly more than half of all Americans between the ages of 25 and 44," the social anchors also fall away, compounding their struggle.

Their point is not to cluck their tongues at the non-churchgoing and those in "irregular" family arrangements.  Rather, they simply observe that the stability of marriage and the community of religious belonging -- with the supportive checks and balances that these can offer -- seem unattainable to those who see no way forward, economically.  This problem has been put forward before, as noted by this blog.  But Cherlin and Wilcox hit home with an important caveat:
"... the working class is not a cultural vanguard confidently leading the way toward a postmodern lifestyle. Rather, it is a group making constrained choices."
The U.S. Catholic church -- with its wealth of experience drawn from both its parishes and social ministries in low-income communities and its broad reach into the middle and professional class through its network of Catholic colleges and universities -- seems to be well-poised to engage this disconnect, particularly given its own well-developed understanding of the social role of mediating or intermediary institutions.

I wonder how we could do this?