26 February 2012
It was nothing personal; the shareholders of Money Enterprises could get better returns in China. Nearly half of young men, who could once have got work at Money, Inc., or some similar outfit, find themselves without steady work. One outcome is that they also don’t marry. They often have kids, but they find it hard to be a consistent father, or even a live-in one.
But something else was happening in Fishtown. Lost investment in factories was only part of the neighborhood’s downhill trend. And maybe not even the biggest part. When looking at a society’s strengths, sociologists like Murray often discuss “social capital.” What they mean is, who would care if you were mugged? If your child is mistreated at school? If teachers are disrespected—or disreputable? If the Little League needs coaches? If the seniors’ home needs a patio and garden? In a healthy community, people volunteer their time to address a variety of local needs. In a less healthy community, they focus on their own needs or those of loved ones. As a result, they may win a minor personal victory, but the community declines.
For example, people turn their homes into fortresses, but crime rules the streets at night.
Anyway, Murray identifies a number of key, decades-long trends in Fishtown’s decline, and here are a few:
Attended a public meeting on town or school affairs: Down 35% from 1973 to 1994
Percentage of parents with children under age 18 who are members of the PTA: Down 61% from 1960 to 1997
Served as an officer of some club or organization: Down 42% from 1973 to 1994
United Way contributions as a percentage of personal income: Down 55% from 1963 to 1998 (p. 241)
Why don’t people join, volunteer, or contribute as much? Lack of time or money isn’t the main problem. There are still 24 hours in a day, and we can contribute a great deal to our communities without spending much. The main problem is that volunteering tends to cluster around life choices like marriage and work—the very life choices that are failing in Fishtown.
When people marry, they inherit volunteering. A man may be stuck with carrying the signs in his van for the Run for Juvenile Diabetes—because his wife’s nephew has the disorder. A woman may discover the joys of basketball camp because her husband’s brother organizes a subsidized summer break for screaming Fishtown kids. It’s not likely an accident that the reduction in the marriage rate in Fishtown meant steadily reduced volunteering.
Similarly, when Money, Inc., had a big plant in Fishtown, the company’s policy was to match employees’ donations to any charitable—and not obviously controversial—cause. No wonder Fishtown often rivaled fashionable nearby Belmont in amounts given . . . A whole culture of charitable giving disappeared with the plant. People didn’t become more stingy, but they lost the structure that made giving seem natural, normal, and easy(ier).
To see how this works, consider Ed, Steady Eddy’s son, who works odd jobs off and on, and has a three-year-old daughter by a former girlfriend: He doesn’t go to meetings on town affairs because, not having a trade, he isn’t sure who he speaks for anyhow. When his daughter is old enough for school, he is not likely to go to PTA meets because he doesn’t live with the girl’s mother. So it’s only fair that the mom should be the one to make the decisions. He has thought about going with his dad to the Fishtown Trout Derby or the Knights of Columbus, but that whole culture just seems so alien to him. And after he pays child support (when he can), he doesn’t have much money for charities.
If Ed saw a neighbor struggling with a fridge, he would run to help. He’s not a bad guy or a useless one. But he’s a guy who no longer has a larger vision, community, or purpose that gives him much direction in life. A marriage and a job had done that for his dad—but that’s history now.
Next: Churches just want your money!
See also: When Joe Money moved out of Fishtown …
When marriage died in Fishtown