The Atlantic recently featured an article about the impact of the recession on American society. In How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America, author Don Peck writes that the sustained high rate of unemployment, particularly among men, will have a lasting effect on politics, culture and the character of our society:
If it persists much longer, this era of high joblessness will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults—and quite possibly those of the children behind them as well… It may already be plunging many inner cities into a kind of despair and dysfunction not seen for decades.
The worst effects of pervasive joblessness—on family, politics, society—take time to incubate, and they show themselves only slowly. But ultimately, they leave deep marks that endure long after boom times have returned. Some of these marks are just now becoming visible, and even if the economy magically and fully recovers tomorrow, new ones will continue to appear. The longer our economic slump lasts, the deeper they’ll be.
The author interviewed William Julius Wilson, a Harvard sociologist, whose 1996 book When Work Disappears described the connection between the loss of jobs in urban neighborhoods i n the 1970s and social problems such as crime, family instability and low levels of social organization:
Wilson, age 74, is a careful scholar, who chooses his words precisely and does not seem given to overstatement. But he sounded forlorn when describing the “very bleak” future he sees for the neighborhoods that he’s spent a lifetime studying. There is “no way,” he told me, “that the extremely high jobless rates we’re seeing won’t have profound consequences for the social organization of inner-city neighborhoods.” Neighborhood-specific statistics on drug addiction, family dysfunction, gang violence, and the like take time to compile. But Wilson believes that once we start getting detailed data on the conditions of inner-city life since the crash, “we’re going to see some horror stories”—and in many cases a relapse into the depths of decades past. “The point I want to emphasize,” Wilson said, “is that we should brace ourselves.”