Printer Friendly

Saving the underclass.

Ken Auletta: What is the most outrageous thing that has been said about your book?

Charles Murray: That it was written in the service of a "radical political agenda," that I selected the evidence knowingly in order to make my points.

Auletta: Are you thinking of the [Robert] Greenstein piece in The New Republic? [March 25, 1985]

Murray: Yes, that's the one that hit the hardest because it was a big article in a prestigious magazine. Actually, I guess the most outrageous piece was Tony Brown's column, in which he said that I advocated concentration camps for blacks. I can't get so excited about a piece like that because it is so completely bizarre.

Auletta: Was there a common mistake in their views?

Murray: Well, the critics run the whole gamut from those who say that the book is both fraudulent and incompetent to those who say, "The guy makes a lot of good points, but he's wrong about such and such." On that spectrum, the common mistake has been to cast the argument of Losing Ground in terms of stereotypes that are often used by people who make similar points.

So the story of Phyllis and Harold [a hypothetical couple used to illustrate the way welfare affects poor families] comes across to many critics as being a statement that young women figure up the amount of money they can make in welfare benefits and modulate their fertility behavior according to the rise and fall of that amount of money. And in unemployment the stereotype is "the lazy bums who are living a comfortable life on welfare rather than going out to work."

These are stereotypes the right has used a lot, but I don't fault some critics for taking off from that....

Auletta: I want to come back later to your views on some of those things, but let me take them in some order. Obviously some liberals took a lot of offense at the book, and I wonder whether, from their own ideological perspective, they are not correct to take offense. For instance, you bridle that your complex message has gotten lost in some of the criticisms of the book. Yet even though you take pains to say, and I quote, "no single demon is to blame" for the persistence of poverty. Not AFDC [Aid to Families with Dependent Children[, not food stamps, not law enforcement, not rent control. Isn't it true, however, that you view liberal nostrums as the chief culprit?

Murray: Well, the way you put it is correct, if by "nostrums" you include not only legislative programs but also court decisions, and especially an intellectual mindset that governs policy in more informal ways.

Auletta: And therefore, a good card-carrying liberal understandably takes offense with your thesis.

Murray: Yes. If you had said to me a liberal must bridle with what you said, then I would argue with you. But when you say "card-carrying," then you're right. There is a big difference between those people who supported these programs in the sixties and into the seventies but have been looking all the time at what is happening and getting disturbed and those who supported them in the sixties and seventies and in my view simply shut their eyes to what was going on around them.

Auletta: Let's stay with that a bit. First, list the programs in your view that have worked well.

Murray: The increases in Social Security benefits, I think, can be credited with a large part of the reduction of poverty among the elderly. A variety of educational programs either have worked or can work. In most cases, I think the statement is they can work. A good Headstart program can be a terrific thing for a three- or four-year-old child from a disadvantaged family. That is not to say that a whole bunch of Headstart programs worked beautifully, because I'm not sure they did. But there certainly is no reason why they couldn't work well. And I would generalize on that statement to a variety....

Auletta: Don't generalize yet, I want to go on with that in a minute. I want you to offer a laundry list of programs that worked. You've mentioned education and Social Security....

Murray: On superficial examination, Medicaid should have improved the health of poor people. If you accept the view that there was terrible access to medical care prior to Medicaid, there is certainly much better access after Medicaid, even if it's inefficient. Therefore, Medicaid should also have improved health. But I am still an agnostic inclining toward pessimism on that score, so I guess I can't include Medicaid in the list. A case can be made, I think, that in certain southern states the Voting Rights Act of 1965 hastened a process that was already underway. A case can be made that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 hastened a process that was already underway.

Auletta: Would you make that case?

Murray: I'm not speaking from data now; this is from my general reading on the issue and my own view of the situation. But I would make the case that they hastened those outcomes. I would also make the case that they produced, particularly regarding the Civil Rights Act of 1964, many other, unintended spinoffs. And I'm not sure the balance is a plus. Let it be heard loud and clear, I am saying civil rights and equal access to public accommodations are things that black Americans should have. I'm delighted to see that they have them. I think the government's role in enforcement of such things probably needs recasting.

Auletta: You've cited a few successes. What are the principles you extract from these successes?

Murray: The government knows how to educate kids who are ready to study. We know how to take a youngster who wants to be an electrician and teach him how to be an electrician if he is prepared to come to that training center and work his ass off, and pay attention, and go out there and stomp the streets looking for an electrician's job when he gets out. For that matter I think we know how to provide better prenatal care to young single women who are pregnant, if those young single women bring to that instruction a commitment to learn more about how they can take care of their babies. We can do all sorts of things with people who have passed a critical threshold of investment--an investment of time, of commitment, of, in some cases, small amounts of money. What we do not seem to be able to do is cajole people into wanting to make those initial investments.

I am speaking as one who spent a lot of years evaluating demonstration efforts where you try one approach, then you try another approach, then you try a third approach, and you still can't get people to make that initial investment.

Auletta: Let's take one experiment, Supported Work. It was targeted at a large group of ex-addicts, long-term welfare recipients, ex-offenders, and delinquent youth. With the long-term dependent women on welfare, they found a nearly 40 percent success rate. That is to say, roughly 40 percent of the women on welfare, who enrolled in this job program, came out, got a job, and got off of welfare. Is that a success, four out of ten?

Murray: Supported Work is something that I'm going to talk about at length, both because you wrote a book about it [The Underclass] and also because I spent quite a bit of time examining the technical evaluation of it.

Let's start with the welfare mothers, an excellent example, I think it was the two-year follow-up that showed that 42 percent of the AFDC participants were still employed. In the control group, those who had gotten none of this assistance whatsoever, 35 percent were employed. Now if you ignore all sorts of reasons why that gap might be inflated, you can say that the investment in Supported Work gave you an increment of seven percentage points of women who were employed--35 percent versus 42 percent.

To me, those results are not evidence of success; they are evidence of the enormous problems we face. Supported Work was in many ways the apotheosis of trying to cajole people to escape dependence. It provided them with training in certain kinds of job readiness skills, it provided them with counseling, it provided them with more or less guaranteed jobs for nine or 12 months. It provided them with a level of support that we cannot conceivably supply to huge numbers of people. I think it is probably too expensive to do that.

They tackled four different types of people, all of them hard-core. With one of those four groups, the two-year follow-up showed a success rate of 42 percent employed versus 35 percent. With one other, the ex-addicts, it was pretty much a wash. With the other two [school dropouts and ex-offenders] the program clearly failed. You add those up and tell me: Shall we think about the statistics in the two groups where you had the employment gap in the wrong where you had the employment gap in the wrong direction? Or shall we simply discount those and say, "Well, with those, there's something wrong with the numbers. When 42 percent versus 35 percent goes in the right direction, it's evidence of big success, but 42 percent versus 35 percent in the wrong direction is not something you need to worry about"?

Auletta: No. You can come to another conclusion, following the notion of targeting. This program failed with ex-offenders and delinquent youth. You could then ask one of two sets of questions. You could ask why if failed. Or maybe you could say that we will put limited resources into the target group--in this case welfare mothers--that showed the most prospect for success. But you're still back with the fundamental question: What is success? If you get real close to a program, you're going to see individuals whose lives were touched and changed by these programs, and you'll therefore be more likely to conclude that there are some beneficial effects. But if you generalize from an arm chair, you might come to a different conclusion.

Murray: You observed that program. You observed real people who were clearly reacting to something good that had happened to them because of that program--and that's true. I've seen the same thing in programs for delinquents, in programs for kids in inner-city schools. But if you had spent all of your time dealing with people who weren't in the program you would have seen a variety of things that touched the lives of young single women and led them to get and hold a job they had not had before, which led them to do positive things. And these wouldn't have had anything to do with the program, they would have had to do with things that just happened in life. The question is, how do you get more of those things to happen? I say, get rid of all the programs and you will have lots more than you have now. Because what touches people's lives can be as simple as a parent saying to a kid as he is growing up, "You have to get out there and get a job no matter what." Getting ten million parents to say that is a hell of a lot more effective way of increasing "job-readiness" than a Supported Work program. I look at the those very minor results of Supported Work and say, this is not good enough. This is not a route out of the morass.

Auletta: But is that an argument for not pursuing a change in the design of the program, or is that an argument, in fact, to change it in some ways that might make it more successful?

Murray: It is clearly an argument in favor of tinkering with the design of the program, but I'd say that your definition of tinkering and mine are probably quite different.

Auletta: What's yours"

Murray: Well, I'll tell you how I would have a dealt with, say, the unemployed youth. Here are kids who are saying to the government, and anybody else who will listen, "Dammit, we want a job." And so you provide them with those jobs. You make the jobs open, however, not just to kids who can bring evidence that they have been a drug addict or evidence that they have been a delinquent. You open it up to everybody in, say, that geographic area. Let's say it's a training program as well as an employment program--we're going to train the kids to be auto mechanics. Anybody can sign up and get in. So you've got an incoming class of 100 kids. They come in the first week, and it's tough. And there are certain prerequisites--math and reading, nothing excessive, nothing more than they will need to become a good auto mechanic. But more important, there will be a simple requirement that you have to attend and you have to work hard. If you don't work hard, you're not going to be able to master the material. The promise is, if you do all of this, you're going to walk out of here three months from now an auto mechanic, and garages all over the Washington and Virginia area are going to want to hire you.

Then you start kicking out. You kick them out when they don't show up on time. You kick them out when they want to get into a fight with the instructor. In the first cycle, you may get rid of 90 percent. The ten percent who get [through]--a highly self-selected group--are going to be good auto mechanics, and they are going to get good jobs. I argue that the next cycle you are going to have some different kinds of kids coming into the program, kids who are not going to call the instructor a motherfucker when the instructor tells them to do something because they've heard that if you do that you will get kicked out. So over a period of time, you're going to have honest-to-God training, not ersatz training, which is what we've had in the Job Corps so many times.

Auletta: There were some Supported Work programs that followed this rigorous example, and obviously there were other training programs that did as well. From my own exposure to people on a community level, many, not all, perhaps not most, believe that you set certain standards, and if people don't comply, if they come late, or they don't show up, or if they're disrespectful, they get thrown out. Period. But what I'm asking is, do you see a solution for that group, the "underclass," who have certain habitual or behavioral problems, who are not "socialized," yet who nevertheless are the people who most frighten the citizenry and have the highest prospensity for criminal acts, dependency on welfare, and anti-social behavior?

Murray: Remember, I said to you the first time that maybe 90 percent flunk out. It's a part of my argument that, as time goes on, you'll get a smaller and smaller percentage because they will have a better understanding of what's required. Let's think about it in terms of specific youngsters that ran into that the Supported Work. Now sometimes their ways of seeing the world are so screwed up, you don't know what you can do with them. With that hard core, I am as pessimistic about what can be done through my approach as I am pessimistic about anyone else's.

But you also know from your own experience that very frequently the kids who are the most criminal, and the hardest to get close to, also are the brightest, most able kids. And they also are those who in their own, unfortunately twisted way, are very responsive to challenge. Now the way they respond is often destructive. The challenge is perceived as something "in their face." But those kids often can be reached even more easily than a lot of softer-core kids if you do provide the challenge. It's what teachers have said about kids from time immemorial. You take a youngster who in many ways is a tough case. You challenge him. You don't give an inch in terms of certain standards. And he responds.

Auletta: A lot of the kids you're talking about are 19, or let's say they're 22. They've grown up without a family in many cases--most, I daresay--and they are twisted. They are embittered. They feel crippled. They don't know how to deal with life. I'm talking about saying "please" or "thank you." In many cases they don't know how to use an alarm clock. They've never cashed a check in a bank. Often they are afraid of the white world. If they're simply confronted with discipline and authority without some sense of--to use a dirty liberal word--compassion, or a sense of a helping hand, you may lose them even though they are good prospects. Now what do you say about that group?

Murray: Is "compassion" really the word we want to use?

Auletta: I don't blush from using that word.

Murray: Because I was going to suggest as a substitute, "love." One thing you must communicate to that portion of the kids, if you're ever going to reach them, is not only demands and not only discipline but also love. I don't want to quibble with you about words, but I think that concept is important.

Auletta: Caring?

Murray: Caring, yes; compassion, no. You don't want, in any way, shape, or form, to say, "You poor thing, it's not really your fault." You say to them, "You have it in you to make it, and I'm going to make you make it! And I'm going to make you make it, because I want you to succeed so badly."

Auletta: And I'm going to help you....

Murray: [Pause--laughs.] Yes, except I bet that if you talk to ten teachers or ten people who have intervened in the lives of these kids and listened to the language they use, both the explicit and the tacit, I'm willing to bet that "help" is one word say avoid.

One thing that I have observed about the most effective people who deal with these kids is that they understand the seductions of paternalism, of patting them on the head and saying, "I'm going to help you."

Auletta: But help doesn't necessarily mean paternalism.

Murray: Yeah, but that's what is usually turns out to be.

Auletta: "I'm going to kick your ass!" is helping also.

Murray: True. We agree we want programs. But how do we do it? That's the point at which I would part company with a lot of people. To me, the way you get those kinds of effective programs is not through a CETA program; it's not through a multi-billion dollar program of any sort; it's not even through the United Way, which I regard as just another form of corporatized charity. You do it by getting people like me [laughs] and other ordinary citizens a lot more involved, contributing money, contributing their time. But I'm getting sidetracked. Any time we talk about this really hard-core group, I think we have to confront one of the most unpalatable truths, which is that, by the time these kids are 19 or 22, there are very few we can get to.

I have been extremely discouraged in some ways by an experience of my own. There's a tutoring program here in Washington that selects kids based on test scores and so forth, and it goes into inner-city schools and gives them tutoring. They are the most eager, inquisitive kids you've ever dealt with. They respond to challenge beautifully. They respond to incentives beautifully. What's discouraging is that these kids--who are 14 or 15 instead of 19 or 22 and have done well in school--have a very truncated future ahead of them. In some cases it's because they only speak black English; they can only get so far if they can't deal with the white world. In some cases it's because of the same fears of the white world you talked about. In other cases it's because they go back into the school system and are taunted for being high achievers or acting "white" and so have to conform to the peer pressure in high school. I see even these kids in the inner cities, at the ages of 14, 15, and 16, and I say that we've lost a lot of them already. They're gone. And it's that kind of experience that keeps driving me back to say we aren't going to solve these problems by attacking anywhere except at the prevention level. The only way you make major inroads is by some fundamental changes in the ways in which families are formed and children are raised.

Let's back up for a second and look at the development of black attitudes in the sixties. In an era when black assertiveness and confidence were soaring, and a black leader was getting the Nobel Peace prize, and black leaders occupied the high moral ground about any question, it would have been very easy to predict that in the next five or ten years we were going to see a black population, including the black poor, that would be adamant about taking what was theirs and fighting their way up and would be damned if they'd accept any favors from anybody. That's not what happened. In fact, in the sixties an attitude grew that certain ways of acting were demeaning. The phrase "Tom" took on whole new ramifications during the sixties.

The argument basically goes like this, as it has been expressed very straightforwardly by some young blacks: It's okay for Vietnamese to come here and push brooms and clean toilets and so forth. They've just gotten here. We've been waiting 300 years. We were held in slavery for all but the last 100 years of that. We've cleaned toilets already, and we are entitled to something more.

I think the generational split [in the black community] has been dramatic. As I have talked with the older generation of blacks, I have heard, in much more acerbic terms than one hears, in much more acerbic terms than one hears from conservative whites, a description of lazy, shiftless youngsters who don't know the meaning of work and who don't know what their parents have gone through in order to get them this far. It would be very heartening to find that this older generation was beginning to have its way. I do not know that to be true.

Auletta: Did you make a mistake in the last section of Losing Ground, where you speculated on whether or not we would not be better off just getting rid of all welfare. Was this the mistake that gave ammunition to critics to dismiss your argument?

Murray: I haven't made up my mind about that. I think on balance it was not. But I do fret. In fact I've reread the last chapter a few times and asked myself what would I change. "I'm not sure. Remember, you're talking to a man who spent his career trying to make social programs work. That was my job as an evaluator, and in the last chapters of a book like this I'm supposed to tell people what the solutions are. The more I wrote, the more I backed myself into a corner. I would come up with something like a better Supported Work demonstration program, and the evaluator part of me said, "You don't really believe that it would work because you know all the ways it wouldn't work," so I would throw out that draft.

I finally got to the point where I had two positive things to say. One was there's no reason why we can't have a terrific education system for poor people. We know how to do that. And so recommendations for that are in the last chapter. But I'm willing to go to the mat of affirmative action and other preferential treatment programs for blacks. I think they're pernicious and ought to be done away with. I said that in the last chapter, too.

Then I got to the welfare system, and I could not come up with any ideas for improvements that persuaded me. I finally realized that there was an answer I believed in. You want to cut illegitimate births among poor people? I know how to do that. You want to cut unemployment among young blacks? I know how to do that. You just rip away every kind of government support there is. What happens then? You're going to have lots of parents talking differently to daughters, and you're going to have lots of daughters talking differently to their boyfriends, and you're going to have lots of girls getting abortions and lots of babies being put up for adoption. You're not going to have nearly as many young single women keeping babies. And you're going to have lots of black kids who are suddenly going to find that it is not so demanding after all to get a job sweeping floors, and they're going to keep those jobs.

What you saw in those last few pages of the book was my telling you the only solution that I couldn't talk myself out of based on all the previous data in the book. But there is ambivalence in that last chapter, too, which I guess came from my saying to myself, "You know, people are going to think you're a kook."

Auletta: Was that the only ambivalence?

Murray: No, there was also an ambivalence about whether I was right. Suppose we really did....

Auletta: Gut the programs. Wiped them out....

Murray: In this regard I think I have become radicalized since the book came out. When I wrote it, I saw a lot of good results if there were no welfare supports for healthy working-age people. But I was also extremely scared of trying to run the world that way. I'm still very scared of the transition, the amount of misery, and so forth. But I feel much more strongly than I did a year ago that either we will have to go that route or else we will have to say that we will live with an underclass of the size it is now.

Auletta: What has radicalized you since the book came out? When [Norman] Podhoretz wrote Making It, he was so stunned by the reaction of his critics that it helped drive him further right. Is that what drives you here?

Murray: I don't think so, because in my case the seductions have all been the other way. There have been all sorts of people who have been ready to welcome me to the ranks of the neoliberals if only I would be...a little more sensible: "Charles be serious. You can't do away with all of these programs. The job is to design them better, to become a good incrementalist." Or, "Murray has made a real contribution in forcing us to face some hard questions if only he would understand that government is part of the solution, not part of the problem," and all that. So my seductions were not to make a new place for myself in the wilderness.

Auletta: What about the seductions from the people in the [Reagan] administration and from the right.

Murray: I think that the Reagan people consider me to be just about as much of a loose cannon as liberals do.

Auletta: You seem to be saying that the Reagan administration is in this middle consensus group, so therefore some of the things you've said threaten their kind of safe harbor.

Murray: When you play that back to me, it does seem odd to me to say that the Reagan administration is centrist, but it is. The cuts that the Reagan administration proposed recently in social programs are not draconian. There is no detectable enthusiasm that I can see for striking out on new paths.

Auletta: Do you support the safety net, or would you scrap that?

Murray: Should we talk about the problems of getting there or should I simply say, here's the end state I'd like to see?

Auletta: The end state.

Murray: The end state is an American society in which there are no federal income supports at all for working-age healthy people.

Auletta: Let me interrupt so that I can understand this. What about an 18-year-old working woman who dropped out of school to have a child and who wants to go to work but obviously doesn't have anyone to care for the child at home. Do you advocate support for that person?

Murray: I'm going to add a couple of statements to my last answer, then I'll come to that. I would like to see the system joined with one in which poor people have much greater access to education and training opportunities.

Auletta: Just so that we're clear on this, you're saying that for the non-able-bodied there is a safety net.

Murray: In effect, yes. I'm not sure what the best system would be for that. But it doesn't bother me to have that kind of system.

Auletta: When you're saying it doesn't bother you, it bothers me to hear you say that. Do you believe that it's an affirmative government responsibility to provide for those who are helpless, those who are not able-bodied?

Murray: What could bother me is this. A program for the disabled can easily become--and, I would argue, has easily become--as much a trap for people as the welfare system has. You hear street talk about the ways of playing games with disability insurance. You use a bad back to parlay yourself into something that ends up making you dependent when you didn't have to be. If you say to me that, at the federal level, you should help people who are physically or mentally disabled, my answer is "yes." It's damned tough to do so without creating more problems than you solve, but theoretically, "yes."

Auletta: Okay, what about that able-bodied young mother....

Murray: We're now talking about my world, in which there is no federal system at all, and you're saying that you have an 18-year-old woman who is ready and willing to go to work but has no access to child care at home. We have just described the person who historically has been the object of the community's most tender concern. When AFDC was started back in the New Delhi, it was popular at a time when you had all sorts of opposition to welfare. The reason it was popular was that it was designed to help young widows while their kids grew up. If you have a young woman in the community who is saying, "All I want is to support my family, and all I need from the community is day care," there is going to be no shortage of local programs to provide that assistance where it's needed.

Auletta: Charles, you know that in inner-city neighborhoods--whether it's Washington, New York, or Cleveland--you don't have that kind of infrastructure in the community.

Murray: You don't have it now. But Ken, what makes you think that you aren't going to have that, and have it in abundance, if you no longer have any of these programs coming down from above? We clearly siphon off a great deal of our concern and commitment with the existing system. And if you get rid of that system you are going to have an awful lot of people who have no rationalization for avoiding their commitments.

But there's another point when you ask me about this 18-year-old woman. We can quibble about the likelihood that there is going to be a place for her. But whatever we decide, don't compare my system with a zero-defect system. Compare my system and the number of people who splatter against the pavement with the one we have now. You can't simply say, "If you follow Murray's ideas you're going to have massive suffering among poor people in this country." We have massive suffering among poor people in this country right this minute, and it's a question of choosing the lesser evils.

Auletta: Isn't it also a question of where your bias sits? That is to say, it's almost an unprovable argument one way or the other. I can assert with equal force that more people will be hurt by your system than helped, or I could make just the reverse argument.

Murray: I'm not sure it's unprovable. The contribution of Losing Ground, I hope, is to force people to ask certain kinds of questions that they have never asked. In the past how many analyses of black youth unemployment have we had? And how many of those analysts have been willing to go out in the street and ask why there's unemployment, particularly when there are "help wanted" signs on that street? Why are they unemployed when they quit their last three jobs voluntarily?

Auletta: One of the reasons that some of the liberals reacted in a pained way to your book--although I must say I don't think you were savaged in the way George Gilder was or the way Norman Podhoretz was savaged 15 or so years ago by his former friends--is that they worry that some of the arguments you marshal will be used by forces on the right, who will be much less reasonable, much more fanatical, than Charles Murray. Has the right abused the material?

Murray: I hear this all the time. People say, "You clearly aren't a racist, and you clearly do worry about welfare and poor people. But these other folks are misusing what you said." I'm told that the Reagan administration is using Losing Ground as justification for all sorts of social budget cuts. Has anyone ever heard anybody in the administration mention Losing Ground? I haven't. Now, I won't say that it has been an unblemished record. I've been on radio talk shows where I've had to say to the host, "Wait a minute. That's not what I'm saying. Stop trying to make me out to be in support of such and such a position."

Auletta: Like what?

Murray: Oh, that the welfare lines are filled with people trying to exploit the system and are living high on the hog. And it has gotten pretty racist too. But that hasn't happened very often. One of the reactions by liberals to the book that has been most difficult to pin down, and the reason why so many people have been bothered by it, is ultimately linked to the racial issue. A great many of the reforms of the sixties were supposed to be for poor people. But what they really were, as Pat Moynihan has pointed out, was a way for white Americans to make good on their debt to black Americans. I think now a lot of people who consider themselves liberals, even "hardheaded" liberals who are willing to ask new questions, cling to some of the social programs as sort of the last evidence that they are on the side of the angles with regard to blacks. This is most obvious when it comes to affirmative action. Whenever I have been with a roomful of liberals, we have gotten quickly off the topics that I discussed at great length in Losing Ground and zeroed in on affirmative action. It's as if affirmative action was the last refuge of the lapsed liberal. [Laughs.]

Auletta: And that racial issue manifests itself in your position of opposing affirmative action.

Murray: Yes. We all sit there and agree that in poor black communities the illegitimacy rate is about 80 percent and that is terrible. It's agreed that we have black unemployment rates that are sky-high among youth. They're sort of agreeing with me about the magnitude of those problems. It's as if we can then snap back and talk about affirmative action, which has a couple of effects. One, it covers their credentials. Second, it recasts the problem as a black problem as opposed to one of poor people. But we aren't looking at black problems, we're looking at problems of poor people.

Auletta: But if we're talking about the problems of poor people with no distinctions, why is it that the out-of-wedlock birthrate among blacks is so much worse than for whites?

Murray: If you have any data on illegitimacy among poor whites, I'd love to see it because I've been looking for it. It's pretty hard to find.

Auletta: Certainly there are figures on illegitimacy among whites....

Murray: All whites, not poor whites. One of the things I wanted, to do was find out the illegitimacy rate among poor whites. My hypothesis is that illegitimacy varies by economic class, and it would be a salutary thing for whites to realize that the illegitimacy rate among the poor whites is close to that of blacks. All I have done so far is prove the remarkable lack of curiosity that social scientists have had regarding some very obvious questions.

Auletta: You mentioned earlier that hardheaded liberals were searching for fresh solutions. Where do you think one of those hardheaded liberals or, if you will, a neoliberal, might find common ground with Losing Ground?

Murray: In the proposition that even if we don't know how to help the underclass, at least we can stop punishing poor people who've done everything right. Leave AFDC where it is, leave food stamps where they are. We can't get rid of them. Fine. But at least stop punishing the parents in the inner city who raised their kids right, who told them to study hard and do what the teacher said. Now we send those kids to a school that has been so busy catering to the least able, to the most recalcitrant student, that they won't get a decent education. That's wrong. And if I have a friend who's hardheaded liberal, I wish he'd think real hard about a voucher system. Because, God knows, middle-class urban whites sure end their kids to private schools. Let's give poor parents that same kind of power of choice.

Or take law enforcement. For heaven's sake, one of the most fundamental functions of government is to provide physical safety. So if you're a hardheaded liberal, don't talk to me about our incarceration rate and whether it's the highest in the world or whatever. Think about what it would be like to live in an inner-city community where you can't move around freely and safely. Let's at least get the bad guys offf the streets so that the good folks are safe. In a variety of ways we can quit punishing the good people in poor communities, the ones who most deserve our consideration.

Auletta: But what about the neoliberal who then comes back and says, "But one of the things that has kept us calling ourselves liberals, even though we affix something to qualify it, is this belief in redistributing income, this belief in breaking down some of the class distinctions"? He's an optimist, and he says we're not going to give up. Yet the common ground you outline, in effect, gives up on a segment, call it the underclass, by saying we have to concentrate on the good people who have a better shot at making it.

Murray: Yes, it does in a sense "give up" on the hard-core underclass. But I am suggesting that it is also proper that we distinguish among certain qualities in people, that we create a society that does recognize class distinctions but not distinctions based on how much money you take in, which in many ways is the ethic I think we have bequeathed in the last couple of decades to poor people. I want to see a social policy that lets the man who is a janitor but who has raised a family think of himself as being special by virtue of having held a job and raised a family. He's one of the good people. He is the backbone of the country. He's got to be able to think of himself that way, and a social policy that puts him back on a pedestal has done no small good.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Washington Monthly Company
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:includes article on California welfare system reform
Author:Bernick, Michael
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Interview
Date:Sep 1, 1985
Words:6751
Previous Article:Woman on a seesaw: the ups and downs of making it.
Next Article:Refund? What refund? Why the IRS is screwing up.
Topics:


Related Articles
Cynthia Knight joins South Lane.
3 incumbents retain seats on school boards.
OBITUARIES.
Progressive MS.
Plan smart for the long term: Medicaid changes you should know.
Blocking the Courthouse Door: How the Republican Party and Its Corporate Allies Are Taking Away Your Right to Sue.
The property tax shuffle: some states have made major changes in their property taxes while others have zeroed in on special cuts for poor and...
Return of the American elm: a beloved classic, long missing from city streets, is starting to make a comeback.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters