The Future Of America's Working Class


Watford, England, sits at the end of a spur on the London tube's Metropolitan line, a somewhat dreary city of some 80,000 rising amid the pleasant green Hertfordshire countryside. Although not utterly destitute like parts of south or east London, its shabby High Street reflects a now-diminished British dream of class mobility. It also stands as a potential warning to the U.S., where working-class, blue-collar white Americans have been among the biggest losers in the country's deep, persistent recession.

As you walk through Watford, midday drinkers linger outside the One Bell pub near the center of town. Many of these might be considered "yobs," a term applied to youthful, largely white, working-class youths, many of whom work only occasionally or not at all. In the British press yobs are frequently linked to petty crime and violent behavior--including a recent stabbing outside another Watford pub, and soccer-related hooliganism.

In Britain alcoholism among the disaffected youth has reached epidemic proportions. Britain now suffers among the highest rates of alcohol consumption in the advanced industrial world, and unlike in most countries, boozing is on the upswing.

Some in the media, particularly on the left, decry unflattering descriptions of Britain's young white working class as "demonizing a whole generation." But many others see yobism as the natural product of decades of neglect from the country's three main political parties.

In Britain today white, working-class children now seem to do worse in school than immigrants. A 2003 Home Office study found white men more likely to admit breaking the law than racial minorities; they are also more likely to take dangerous drugs. London School of Economics scholar Dick Hobbs, who grew in a hardscabble section of east London, traces yobism in large part to the decline of blue-collar opportunities throughout Britain. "The social capital that was there went [away]," he suggests. "And so did the power of the labor force. People lost their confidence and never got it back."

Over the past decade, job gains in Britain, like those in the United States, have been concentrated at the top and bottom of the wage profile. The growth in real earnings for blue-collar professions--industry, warehousing and construction--have generally lagged those of white-collar workers.

Tony Blair's "cool Britannia,"epitomized by hedge fund managers, Russian oligarchs and media stars, offered little to the working and middle classes. Despite its proletarian roots, New Labour, as London Mayor Boris Johnson acidly notes, has presided over that which has become the most socially immobile society in Europe.

This occurred despite a huge expansion of Britain's welfare state, which now accounts for nearly one-third of government spending. For one thing the expansion of the welfare state apparatus may have done more for high-skilled professionals, who ended up nearly twice as likely to benefit from public employment than the average worker. Nearly one-fifth of young people ages 16 to 24 were out of education, work or training in 1997; after a decade of economic growth that proportion remained the same.

Some people, such as The Times' Camilla Cavendish, even blame the expanding welfare state for helping to create an overlooked generation of "useless, jobless men--the social blight of our age." These males generally do not include immigrants, who by some estimates took more than 70% of the jobs created between 1997 and 2007 in the U.K.

Immigrants, notes Steve Norris, a former member of Parliament from northeastern London and onetime chairman of the Conservative Party, tend to be more economically active than working-class white Britons, who often fear employment might cut into their benefits. "It is mainly U.K. citizens who sit at home watching daytime television complaining about immigrants doing their jobs," asserts Norris, a native of Liverpool.

The results can be seen in places like Watford and throughout large, unfashionable swaths of Essex, south and east London, as well as in perpetually depressed Scotland, the Midlands and north country. Rising housing prices, driven in part by "green" restrictions on new suburban developments, have further depressed the prospects for upward mobility. The gap between the average London house and the ability of a Londoner to afford it now stands among the highest in the advanced world.

Indeed, according to the most recent survey by, it takes nearly 7.1 years at the median income to afford a median family home in greater London. Prices in the inner-ring communities often are even higher. According to estimates by the Centre for Social Justice, unaffordability for first-time London home buyers doubled between 1997 and 2007. This has led to a surge in waiting lists for "social housing"; soon there are expected by to be some 2 million households--5 million people--on the waiting list for such housing.

With better-paid jobs disappearing and the prospects for home ownership diminished, the traditional culture of hard work has been replaced increasingly by what Dick Hobbs describes as the "violent potential and instrumental physicality." Urban progress, he notes, has been confused with the apparent vitality of a rollicking night scene: "There are parts of London where the pubs are the only economy."

London, notes the LSE's Tony Travers, is becoming "a First World core surrounded by what seems to be going from a second to a Third World population." This bifurcation appears to be a reversion back to the class conflicts that initially drove so many to traditionally more mobile societies, such as the U.S., Australia and Canada.

Over the past decade, according to a survey by IPSOS Mori, the percentage of people who identify with a particular class has grown from 31% to 38%. Looking into the future, IPSOS Mori concludes, "social class may become more rather than less salient to people's future."

Britain's present situation should represent a warning about America's future as well. Of course there have always been pockets of white poverty in the U.S., particularly in places like Appalachia, but generally the country has been shaped by a belief in class mobility.

But the current recession, and the lack of effective political response addressing the working class' needs, threatens to reverse this trend.

More recently middle- and working-class family incomes, stagnant since the 1970s, have been further depressed by a downturn that has been particularly brutal to the warehousing, construction and manufacturing economies. White unemployment has now edged to 9%, higher among those with less than a college education. And poverty is actually rising among whites more rapidly than among blacks, according to the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.

You can see the repeat here of some of the factors paralleling the development of British yobism: longer-term unemployment; the growing threat of meth labs in hard-hit cities and small towns; and, most particularly, a 20% unemployment rate for workers under age 25. Amazingly barely one in three white teenagers, according to a recent Hamilton College poll, thinks his standard of living will be better than his parents'.

It's no surprise then that Democrats are losing support among working-class whites, much like the now-destitute British Labour Party. But the potential yobization of the American working class represents far more than a political issue. It threatens the very essence of what has made the U.S. unique and different from its mother country.

This article originally appeared in

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and is a distinguished presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University. He is author of The City: A Global History. His newest book is The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050, released in Febuary, 2010.

Photo by MonkeyBoy69

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Sad, but true?

Mr. Kotkin refers to Britain as "socially immobile" - as a British citizen - I hate to say he's not kidding. There is something that is becoming more and more ingrained with each new generation. It isn't their fault. But I don't know what can be done about it, at least without years and years of hard work. Any ideas? Answers on a postcard, please!
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No more working class

I think the future of our society will be made up of just two classes. The ultra wealthy and the poor. Sort of like a master and slave society...ulysse nardin

The social capital that was

The social capital that was there went [away]," he suggests. "And so did the power of the labor force. People lost their confidence and never got it back."Online University

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Work Class

A very interesting perspective on how economic growth in the post-millennial western world is defined by a hollowing out of the middle, the consolidation of the super-wealthy, and the growth of a large, working-poor class. And, all of it is wrapped up neatly in a bow of complete social immobility.

It might be cliche to sound the call of the “rich get richer while the poor get poorer,” or it might be anti-conservative to suggest that there’s a policy agenda that should speak to mobility. But, having spent time in places like Bangladesh, Indonesia, or Mexico, I can attest to the value of social mobility. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the notion of “freedom” to which we vigilantly cling as conservatives is best reflected by social mobility, or “opportunity.” The freedom to take risks and strive for a greater future, the freedom to take risks, fall flat on one’s face, and be able to pick themselves up again. Each of these freedoms is dependent on access to capital, healthcare, and education, and a social net to some degree – making the each of these – capital, health, education, and welfare – fundamentally conservative values, in as much as they support the most conservative value of all – freedom of social mobility.

London is vibrant. Public

London is vibrant. Public houses selling alcohol have lost business(due to smoking-free environment) and many businesses in this sector are available for rent or for purchase. Many 'pubs' are being converted to residential apartments. Yob culture is not as prevalent as before.
Ordinary working class people - many self-employed builders, plasterers, plumbers etc. have been squeezed out of a livelihood mainly due to East European immigrants from the newly expanded European Union countries. The East Europeans work without demarcation - they will do plumbing, electrical work - unlike the British and at lower earnings. The Europeans will spend as little as possible and will save and repatriate their earnings to their original country where the money buys lot more in value.
There are many 'unemployed' and without skills workers in local government who are a barrier to the progress of the skilled but unemployment rate drops as they tell people.
This question has to be addressed but is a very sensitive issue.

The Future Of America's Working Class

America is one of the strongest economy of the world. So we need not to worry about the future of America only to worry that how we can challenge them in terms of economical,Industrial and other sectors.

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Watford, England, sits at

Watford, England, sits at the end of a spur on the London tube's Metropolitan line, a somewhat dreary city of some 80,000 rising amid the pleasant green Hertfordshire countryside. Although not utterly destitute like parts of south or east London, its shabby High Street reflects a now-diminished British dream of class mobility. It also stands as a potential warning to the U.S., where working-class, blue-collar white Americans have been among the biggest losers in the country's deep, persistent recession.

As you walk through Watford, midday drinkers linger outside the One Bell pub near the center of town. Many of these might be considered "yobs," a term applied to youthful, largely white, working-class youths, many of whom work only occasionally or not at all. In the British press yobs are frequently linked to petty crime and violent behavior--including a recent stabbing outside another Watford pub, and soccer-related hooliganism.

In Britain alcoholism among the disaffected youth has reached epidemic proportions. Britain now suffers among the highest rates of alcohol consumption in the advanced industrial world, and unlike in most countries, boozing is on the upswing.

Some in the media, particularly on the left, decry unflattering descriptions of Britain's young white working class as "demonizing a whole generation." But many others see yobism as the natural product of decades of neglect from the country's three main political parties.
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It's a pity to admit this fact, but this is true. Englishmen are one of the most "drinking" nations now, the number of young men who drink now increases dramatically. hyip monitor No doubt, we present at "yobization" of nation, the question is how to stop it...

This is an interesting

This is an interesting cautionary tale for sure. However, the author doesn't make much of a direct connection to how America is in danger of a similar yobish plight. We have many unaccounted-for factors in our favor, such as providing higher-quality health insurance (even if not as cheaply as in the UK), having more personal liberties, and being generally safer (by statistics). I'm not completely disagreeing with the author, but I'd love to see a follow-up article with some of those factors addressed.

America is one of the

America is one of the strongest economy of the world. So we need not to worry about the future of America only to worry that how we can challenge them in terms of economical,Industrial and other sectors.

America is getting worst and not better

It's really depressing to observe the upcoming generation encountering these kind of trials and tribulation when we worked so tough to supply the means for them the to succeed beyond the life style we went thorough at there age.
Also i don't agree with you alex.
The most essential guarantees employed to justify capitalism are that your young children will have a much better life than you do, and in President Kennedy's well known words "a rising tide lifts all boats" that means all of us benefits from the accumulation of capital funds. These guarantees ring hollow in a period of time in which the relative situation of the working people of the US is declining and its ruling class is in a position to appropriate a growing share of the nationwide revenue. My conclusion to what has occurred is that the connection among productivity and wages has been damaged.
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no religion too

One of the most obvious ways in which working class males are disspirited and disengaged is because there is no religious culture that gives their lives the meaning that is the case with pakistani or Polish youth. Philip Blond's book red Tory deals with this absolutely criticalcultural factor at work in the UK's current mess.

Trade Unions

Incredibly "trade union" appears nowhere in this analysis of working class social/political power, or in the comments that follow. It's like reading a car review and a debate about said review with no mention of "engine."


Where do I begin with this nonsense? Your article on “yobs” is especially enlightening. Don’t know why. The US work force, the middle class is headed that way? Is that even accurate? There will be all these YOBS sitting around, drinking and not working. We are headed this way because of what? Of course no where is there any mention of any word “union”. If you mention that a union is positive you are a commie. If you mention that a union is negative you are a national socialist. American corporations are shipping jobs overseas. All this is being aided and abetted by congress. It started under Regan, continued with Clinton and both Bushes. Obama will not change it either. They don’t want a middle class. The English don’t make anything anymore. No one works, crime runs rampant and of course there is the “I word” or as we call it the immigrant word. Everything is blamed on “them” if you are English. That translates to us blaming everything on immigrants in the USA and tacit approval of all that nonsense. The basic reality is that just between 2000 and 2003 we lost 400,000 to 600,000 professional service jobs. This is due to the trade deficient, currency conditions, oil, and a whole list of over economic things. We use the Chinese to finance our deficient all the while politicos will tell you that it is your fault the deficient is so high because of the “unfunded mandates” like the FICA and social security that they take out of your paycheck each week. At the same time it is perfectly legal for a US company to earn money in the United States, transfer the money into off shore bank accounts and claim none of it on their taxes. In addition they can pay their CEO’s from the same off shore accounts. Congress makes it all legal. They are trying to close the loop holes, but we will see. Go to the following sites:

http://www.offshore-companies. offshore-banking/ / /

They will tell you how to do it.

American workers are more productive, work longer hours, at less pay comparatively than any other country in the world. That is with all the evil unions running around and with all the perceived problems with the education system.


Not only at above sites you will find more information how they do it.
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A yob is, quite literally, a backwards boy

The impoverishment of Youth

It wasn't at any point, the creation of a capitalist system that has caused the further impoverishment of the US and Britain's youth. Fierce competition among displaced older workers in both economies has pushed aside younger workers regardless of their qualifications or intelligence. Underlying stereotypical currents that suggest young people are "lazy" and full of "entitlement" also perpetuates the hardships they face. Unemployment rates of 20 somethings is at a historical high, largely due to the remaining bottleneck of baby bloomers remaining in the workforce, however it was the credit based economy that the baby bloomers created that has doomed a young person from becoming financially established.

America is destine to become the worlds next caste system, initiated by the sudden disappearance of jobs capable of sustaining even a modest existence. As remaining wealth is shifted to third world manufacturing and IT markets, our next generations are destined to be overworked, impoverished servants of the elite class, driving what remaining service sector remains.

I Agree

I totally agree with you. That America is destine to become the worlds next caste system, initiated by the sudden disappearance of jobs capable of sustaining even a modest existence.
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The influence of the

The influence of the structure of our economies has come up in a number of comments here. It is worth pursuing because it should give a clearer picture of what will work and what won't towards improving social structure.

The US and British economies are capital intensive: productivity is purchased via investments in technology; technology reduces demand for low-skill labor; capital is accumulated for re-investment in competitive businesses. Naturally, the money is in financial services and technology, and the "big" money is recirculated into the economy via the service industry. As the amount of labor "dumped" due to manufacture relocation or technological advance is increased, the labor market in services goes the way of manufacturing. Gradually, a working (and non-working) underclass is created. It has two bases: 1) Is the inability of the members of the class to make the quick adaptation required of them. The difficulty of altering the values and capacities of people in a relatively short period of time cannot be assigned simply to the category of education. The job market has to respond to the capacities of the people entering it for change to truly occur. 2) A non-progressive increase in the cost of living (I am not using "progressive" here to refer to the political outlook of that name). The example of housing in the UK was apropos of that. In the US it would be health care (everyone has to have it, but the costs of insurance are "spread" without respect to capacity to pay). Health care has becomes the US's issue-of-note precisely because of this: health care ignores local cost of living, household capacity to pay, while responding (since the US health care market is relatively laissez faire) quite acutely to the growth of the top twenty percent of the population's ability to absorb the cost of high quality health care (I suspect this also influences the poor response of the medical education establishment to the market's evident demand for more doctors; not to mention the ballooning cost of medications in which R&D and regulatory costs end up being loaded into the prices of the products that reach the end of the pipeline).

This, I think, speaks to the socio-economic "bifurcation" mentioned in some of the comments.

But... I think it's also important that we recognize that there is a simple issue of investment in our societies that belongs here as well. The societies that underly investment in technological and economic advance should themselves by objects of serious-minded investment. Otherwise, 'advance' is just another word for exploitation.

I agree that the US is on

I agree that the US is on the same path. And it would be difficult to argue that this has much to do with the welfare state, as some have suggested. The welfare state is "small potatoes" compared to the massive movement of jobs and change in the composition of domestic job opportunities. Our underclass is on welfare in some places, but in many it is not: it is a working underclass, with two wage-earners per household, many working multiple jobs in order to, among other things, pay for health insurance (which now costs more than rent if you have to cover it yourself -- even with a subsidy).

This underclass isn't a bunch of children from Hamlin dancing behind the Pied Piper of Social Services, it is composed of the left-behinders. These people are victims of rapid economic change, inattention, and, frequently, poor parenting: they lack the means, the capacities, and the inspiration to succeed in the modern, globalized economies in which they live. They have lost hope. Encouraging them to work sounds nice, but that only means that they will have no time to really improve their situation and to take care for the next generation -- the problem is not only not solved, it is carried over into the future with a vengeance. And protectionism is simply a postponement. Sooner or later, the work force has to be modernized, or the working class is condemend to the ranks of the left-behinders: fodder for religious fundamentalism and irrational right-wing populism.

What needs to be done? The working class cannot be allowed to languish. They need inspiration, education, opportunity, and time (i.e. money -- subsidies, insurance...). It is naive, wishful thinking to imagine that people can have hope for improvement while wasting their time in out-of-date occupations and neglecting the care of their children.

Not only do individuals have a duty to improve their families' situation and to contribute to society, society has a duty to facilitate and not impede their ability to do so. Globalism has exacted a cost on the working class. Those of us who benefitted from globalization are obliged to pay those costs and not arrogantly and negligently assign the costs underlying our own profits to the people who can least afford to pay.

Mr. Kotkin's comment about housing costs is an interesting one. In the US we do not have such onerous green regulations -- at least, where they exist, they are local ordinances. Housing costs are, indeed, high, particularly if one is looking only at the cost-bloated single-family home market (but we could always stop wanting single-family homes or refuse to accept the products of our grossly inefficient home construction industry), but housing is a less significant cost now than health care. I think that the US situation, with its variation in housing regulations and costs, forces us to ask why variation in housing costs has not been a greater engine for prosperity for the white underclass?

An intelligent article and

An intelligent article and there are a lot of truths in it. But please, the description "perpetually depressed Scotland" is just not true. There ARE areas in the West of Scotland which are just as destitute as some of the worst parts of the south east of England, but the rest of Scotland, which is almost as large a country as England, is thriving with its oil, whisky, banking, tourist and IT industries. And americans should bear well in mind that Scotland is NOT a region of the UK, it is a separate country with its own capital city and government.
Turning now to yobism. This in the UK is definitely fuelled by alcohol but the worst cases of it are found in the centres of towns on Friday and Saturday nights after heavy drinking by mainly affluent young people in work. Most of the recipients of welfare benefits couldn't afford to drink in the city centre bars at night and the pubs during the day. So I believe there is a very low correlation between yobism and welfare benefits. Yobism is just an unfortunate cultural blot which the UK has had to live with for a long time.
However, I do believe that there is a high correlation between numbers on welfare benefits, aka unemployed, and petty, and even serious crime, no matter what UK governments might say. There is little doubt that idle hands make the devil's work.
The Thatcher revolution with its mistaken mantra that a services job is every bit as important as a manufacturing job helped to kill off hundreds of thousands of good interesting jobs as apprentices in UK manufacturing industry. The alternative now? A job in a call centre or packing shelves in a supermarket? Who can blame unemployed youths baulking at that. And as for educating them further. What is the point? They will only be more discontented when they find there are no jobs for their new skills.

Yobism and Dalrymple

Thank you CosmoProvincial for the intelligent post.

Er, but about Yobs and Theodore Dalrymple...
Is the welfare state the root of all evil? Teddy Dalrymple says that it is, and very eloquently. This does not make it so.

Has Dr Dalrymple notice that European nations with significantly more extensive welfare states than Britain's--Italy, Germany, Scandinavia--have less violence and less drunken disorder?
If the welfare state indeed was the cause of social disintegration, one would have expected these societies to have broken down long ago. But they have not. It is the UK where Yobism thrives. The United States, with a much smaller welfare state than the UK, has a still higher rates of violent crime.

This is not to say that a bigger the welfare state leads automatically to less violent crime, less moronic public behavior on a Friday night. But the correlation is striking, and must be accounted for.

Dalyrmple's cris de coeurs can be good fun, but they are bereft of any real thought or analysis, just the ranting of a harried member of the helping professions letting off steam. Like junk food, Dalyrymple's writings may provide some instant gratification, but they are devoid of real value.

Some truth here but not the whole story

There is a lot of truth in this article, but some of it is misleading and plain wrong. I am one of the " white working class" English you talk about (yes, we can read and we are not all "yobs"). I live in in the "perpetually depressed," "backwater" of Manchester in the north of England. Actually, it's not that bad, and I'm quite sure there are cities in the US with a much higher crime and murder rate (see: Detroit, Baltimore) or homelessness problem (see: San Francisco).

The two things which you have got absolutely right: firstly, when manufacturing was wiped out (starting in the 1980s, thanks in part to Thatcher's anti-working class policies), it did indeed lead to a massive rise of "yobs", unemployment and a general lack of civility. The second thing which is true is the alcohol culture, which really multiplied in the 1990s and has continued throughout the 2000s. It really is a blight on the whole population, whether one lives in a small town or a big city. There is a culture of macho violence that permeates everywhere and cities at night have hoards of shouting lads with scores of screaming girls going from one chain bar to the next. It isn't pretty. I would like to add though that the middle-classes also drink far too much, whether in the pub or a nightly bottle of wine in the home.

Therefore I thank you Joel for writing this article which brings some unpalatable truths to attention and something which the British press has largely ignored. This has been going on for the past 30 years. And your article is in contrast to many American commentators I've read on the web who believe British cities are full of Muslims on welfare. Like you said in the article, most immigrants work hard and generally cause a lot less trouble than the white underclass.

However, your focus should have been on the government-directed economic policies of the past 30 years rather than wholly blaming the welfare state. When maufacturing started to disappear from this country the govt. line was: "let the factory fail, after all it's a free market." Contrast this with the recent multi-billion pound bailout of the banking and financial service sector, which ordinary working people are now going to have to pay back in taxes for the next couple of decades. When a recession affected the bankers and stockbrokers, suddenly the "free market" disappeared and state intervention was the order of the day. This speaks volumes about where govt. priorities lay.

This is a classic case of being anti-welfare only when it affects the poor. Yet when the rich or corporations need welfare, then it is happily dished out to the tune of billions.

Absolutely correct. This

Absolutely correct. This nonsense of blaming The Welfare State for the problem of the growing underclass is based on a ridiculous assumption that human beings are so plastic in their capacities that they can be expected to respond to every change, however traumatic or rapid... and if they don't, it's because of some imaginary failing, like a Welfare State that just sucked the virtue out of them by making life too easy. But out virtues are themselves a product of the most stubborn aspect of human nature: our desire to have things remain the same. One would think conservatives would understand that... but I guess that's another reason why we have hypocrisy.

Dalrymple, as you note, is one of the most superficial practitioners of this strange blindness. For an article which is so evidently sincere in its desire to get at the truth, mentioning Dalrymple certainly lent not credibility.

Some more thoughts

Thanks John for the well-argued posts, I have to say there is little I can disagree with from what you have wrote.

And the poster writing about Dalrymple is spot-on too: I actually quite enjoy reading him and think that some of the points he makes are quite interesting, but he gets it wrong when he thinks that welfare is the biggest problem. Like someone else pointed out, nearly every northern European country has a much more generous welfare system than Britain but they don't have the same social problems.

Another point is that Britain is the country which has followed the "American model" more than any other nation in Europe. Sometimes we "go further" than the US: for example, nearly all state schools here are soon going to be under the governance of private organisations, many of them profit-making corporations (some of them from America). Our postal service is also going to be privatised. Other European countries who have not followed this model so slavishly have not experienced the same crime levels or social problems that we in the UK have. Please bear in mind I am not blaming America for this, it is the decisions of UK politicians who are responsible. But the point is, whatever the problems are, it isn't because there isn't enough 'capitalism' in the UK. We are a very similar economy to the US, often with identical brands and stores available (McD/Subway/KFC etc. in every town in the land).

Joel uses Watford as an example of the decline of Britain. I think he has chosen Watford principally because it was the "last stop on the Tube." Most people would definitely not consider Watford as a terrible place to live. If he had travelled further he would have found the "perpetually depressed" northern England quite surprising. Yes, there is a lot of relative poverty on the outskirts, but Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Nottingham are very vibrant, modern cities that certainly give London a run for its money. By necessity, becuase of the transition from industrial to post-industrial places, these cities have in the past decade experienced a renaissance, albeit based mainly around retail, restaurants, call centres and financial services. But quality of life can be very good in these places, and often better than London, because they're less crowded and transport is much easier and less stressful.

Like John, I agree that it is disingenuous to blame the underclass for this crisis: it is not they who decided that their source of jobs was systematically wiped out or that houses would become unaffordable or that the only economy left was based around shopping and drinking. It is a complex issue, based around globalisation (where factory jobs are basically in China or India rather than Britain), and the main focus of the political elites being on the middle-classes.

British yobism

Well written "Cosmopolitan provincial". You have hit the nails right on the head.

A response from London

This article addresses a genuine set of problems in the UK, but at least from the point of view of this Brit living in one of London's outer suburbs, it didn't really ring true.

A few points:

1/ Yobism, as you call it, isn't new, or associated specifically with the white working class and its supposed neglect, or with people who are unemployed. It's at least as old a term as I am (55 years). For instance, condemnation of yobs and yobbish behaviour was widespread in the 1960s, when employment was at its height.

2/ Your characterization of Watford is very odd. According to the Borough Council, the proportion of people claiming the Jobseekers' Allowance welfare benefit (ie, those who are unemployed and looking for work) was 2.5% in January 2010-- hardly an epidemic, and well below the national average of 3.4%. Nor do you mention that Watford has a large Muslim population, and it's a fairly safe bet that unemployment is higher in that group.

3/ You claim that parts of south and east London are "utterly destitute." Really? I live in south east London, and this doesn't strike me as an accurate description of any part of this region. There certainly are parts of the UK that are pretty destitute, mostly the same kind of ex-industrial areas, often in the North, that are also pretty destitute in the US. There is poverty and deprivation and unemployment in south and east London, but utter destitution there is not.

4/ Your article implies that high alcohol consumption is a consequence of disaffected youthfulness/unemployment. It isn't. Excessive drinking is a problem in Britain, but it affects all classes and all age groups, as the recent government campaign against middle-class drinking illustrates. It's a cultural issue, not a class issue.

None of which is to say that there isn't a problem of white working class disaffection-- there is, and a lack of well-paid blue collar work is clearly one reason for that. But the main reason, which you don't mention, is very high and largely uncontrolled levels of inward migration, which, rightly or wrongly, is much resented by white working class people.

The Future of America's Working Class

In this article Joel Kotkin hits probably the major problem facing American Society.

I wish he had suggested some solutions to the problem.

There are several that come to my mind. You can think of dozens more.

First: Welfare and unemployment benefits are a necessity to some extent, but something should be required from the recipient in exchange to prevent workers from preferring no-work welfare to finding a low paying job requiring hard work.

Participation in an automated education program could be required of people drawing such public support. There should be and perhaps are "open source" and thus free computer tutors. The Plato system was started many years ago by the defense department and is now a commercial system used by many school systems to teach students in "in school" suspension without using a teacher. Three days of work improving one's education on a computer that keeps detailed records in exchange for the payments would get people off welfare quicker than pay for doing nothing. It would also make it more difficult to draw welfare or unemployment and simultaneously work in the cash economy. If not that try street cleaning or planting and tending flowers in public parks. Anything productive would be better than something for nothing.

Second: Make all wages tax deductible to the payer. All wages paid by business are tax deductible, but if an individual hires a sitter for an elderly parent they must use after-tax dollars. Hire a person to clean your house and you pay in after-tax dollars. Much of such pay is in the cash economy whether that is legal or not. Making such labor payments tax deductible to the payer who reports the wages and pays the employer's portion of the Social Security tax would put a great damper on the cash economy and thus a damper on double dipping. It would also minimize illegal tax evasion by the employer and employee which breeds disrespect for law in general.

Third: If we want a meritocracy -- a society where everyone can succeed -- eliminate tuition in public colleges and universities for student who do well. Many bright but poor children know college is beyond their means and give up. Give them a realistic chance to succeed or fail. If they fail deep down they will know it was their fault. If they succeed it benefits us all.

Jim Fuqua

The effect of technology

I think you have a substantial contribution here, Jim, but there is one thing that should be added: the effect of manufacturing technology on the economy. I'm afraid this problem is often ignored, despite the tremendous body of evidence to demonstrate it plays a larger role in bifurcation than does government regulation, the welfare state, or growth management.

Put simply, the cost of living in advanced society has gone up--we have more technology requiring more energy to operate. At the same time, the value of human labor has gone down, leading to an expanding gap between the high-skilled workers that program and operate advanced manufacturing technology and low-skilled workers who have been replaced in part by that technology.

Where I think your ideas here have a lot of value is in increasing the overall education level of the society by enabling more people to become high-skilled workers who operate the technology. I don't know yet if this can resolve the bifurcation over the long run, but it's a powerful idea.

Speaking of which, do you have much experience with the system in the Netherlands? My understanding (though admittedly limited) is that the country finances education for graduates, but only provides loans for those who do not finish their education. In other words, you pay student loans only if you don't get an education--similar to your third idea. If you do wind up writing an article on this, I'd encourage you to look into that. It might add some real-world context to the conversation.

Additionally, it's obvious we need some kind of restructuring of the tax system to lower the burden of hiring workers locally: in most industrialized countries, consumption is taxed and income is not. Here, the tax on income increases the price of labor while the cost of imported capital improvement is cheap. I'm not confident changing the tax system alone will resolve the bifurcation, but it might help reverse the United States's trend toward a low-skilled service-based economy, a transition that doesn't appear to be economically sustainable.

Yes, the idea of having

Yes, the idea of having everyone become more educated and well-versed in highly skilled jobs seems like a good one. But the problem is that this doesn't really work to the extent one would imagine. I assume the idea is that if everyone were more educated, then everyone would make more money and thus this gap between rich and poor could be limited.

I'll use myself as an example. I went to college, moved to California and now work in the heart of Silicon Valley where some of the world's largest and best-known corporations exist. I make what is considered by national and even regional standards to be a very good salary and so too does my Wife- who also works in Silicon Valley. Now- one would think we would be living it up and living comfortably. We do to an extent but if we were to buy even a very modest house within a 100 mile radius of where we live, we would barely be making ends meet. The average house around here is still hovering around the $500,000-$700,000 mark.

Part of the reason for this is because the Bay Area has a large concentration of highly skilled and often well-paid professionals. Most of whom are squished into a small area with over 6 million total people throughout the metro area. Part of the problem ( as mentioned on this site) is due to limited land use restrictions. But I also think the fact that so many highly skilled workers living in an area plays a big factor too. Since more people are on the same level, there is more competition for housing. Throw in limited amounts of restricted land and this pushes people over the edge and they will take increasingly risky financial chances on making big purchases like for mortgages and so forth.

As I previously mentioned, I am somewhat glad I live in the US where there are many other lower cost cities throughout the country. They tend to be lower cost because they lack the sheer volume of major corporations who hire highly skilled workers and they also have lax land use laws and regulations. Sure- almost any city- even Detroit- is going to have exclusive neighborhoods and choice bits for the wealthy. But this is very much unlike the Bay Area where this exclusivity is spread far and wide.

In summary more education and skills are good. But if everyone were to be educated on the same level then the US would more closely resemble what is happening in the Bay Area and we would all be competing with each other and ultimately diminishing our purchasing power.

Referring to some comments below, esp. those by Wilson and Fuqua

Referring to some comments below, esp. those by Wilson and Fuqua:

Personally, I think too much emphasis is put on land-use restrictions. After all, other municipalities could use market forces to punish cities whose restrictions make their residents and businesses vulnerable to being recruited by other cities where conditions are more amenable.

There are rigidities in the movement of businesses/jobs that make problems like those faced by lower-income people in the Bay Area possible -- business clustering, the preferences of higher-wage workers, infrastructure, start-up costs, geographical position, recruiting advantages, etc... If these things were not present, the Bay Area would be forced to change. In short: cities can have the land-use policies that their situations allow. Maybe things are different in the UK? Do they have restrictive policies imposed at the national level?

It is also worth noting that restrictive policies often have a benign effect on property values (e.g. creating and protecting the city's brand name, nursing a scarcity along, etc...). There are many examples of this in the US (Central Park, setbacks on waterfront, wetlands...), some of which are exclusively "social" in character and don't benefit any pecuniary interest group in particular (wetland building restrictions), but most of the time they do (they're just so old and familiar we don't notice them anymore). In short, land-use restrictions usually reflect the balance between land-holding and commercial interests. More baldly stated: policy is a reflection of pecuniary interest. And if there is a market for policy, shouldn't policy be considered as benign and self-correcting as any other facet of the market?


Forgot to add my comment on Mr. Fuqua's ideas. I also thought this was on the mark. Meritocracy is the true goal, and that should be explicit in any debate on social policy.

excellent ideas

mr. fuqua

these are very interesting ideas. would you like to write them up as an article for the site.



The welfare state and the yobs

What is the role of the welfare state in all of this? If you want a clear answer, see Theodore Dalyrymple's Life at the Bottom.

As Matt Ridley notes early in The Rational Optimist, the British welfare state provides more money in benefits today to someone on the dole with three dependents than the average British working man earned in 1955 (when Harold MacMillan was correctly noting that the working man had never had it so good).

Why is it puzzling to so many that when social benefits pay more than the only jobs available and with no reasonable hope for advancement (let's raise those housing prices even more -- it's the green thing to do)many people conclude that the only sensible choice is to forego work, sleep in late in your government-provided housing, and head for the pubs to meet your mates?

Perhaps the biggest

Perhaps the biggest difference between the US and the UK is that the US has literally 1000's of other small to mid-sized cities that people can move to when and if the current city they live in ( SF, NYC, Boston, LA, and so on) become too expensive. Perhaps a house in SF might be $800k. But the same house can be had in Houston for $150k. Migratory patterns shows that largely the middle class are moving out and away from expensive cities and to lower cost cities. This is very much unlike the UK which has a limited number of alternative cities in which to serve as pressure relief valves.


This is very much a point we discussed in London.

It's quite true --- the lack of alternatives is a big problem for the uk which now resembles a city-state with the rest of country as a backwater to London