America is in an economic and cultural crisis, as millions lack the tools that make a fulfilling life: A great education, stable job, and healthy relationships. The chief question, of course, is how to best connect our neighbors with opportunities that lead to a flourishing life.
Tim Carney—best-selling author, Washington Examiner commentary editor, and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute—has some excellent answers in his latest book, Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse. Tim will be highlighting his findings at this years Breakthrough event in Atlanta, GA.
Hot off the press in February, Alienated America examines the dissolution of our nation’s most cherished institutions—nuclear families, places of worship, and civic organizations. In this his third book, Carney chronicles how life is getting worse for people in some parts of the country because folks are facing their problems alone.
And after visiting all corners of America and digging deep into the data, Carney concludes what we here at the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) have been saying for years—failing social connections are driving a great divide in America that can’t be fixed solely with job-training programs or more entitlement spending.
Specifically, Carney makes the case that just three groups represent most of America: the elites, the religious conservatives, and the alienated. And while community and civil society has been eroding across all groups across the nation in recent years, it has not done so equally for each group.
In alignment with GCO’s view, Carney argues that working class people in America are currently suffering more than other groups because they no longer have the institutions to connect them to others—and provide an all-important sense of purpose. It’s this profound lack of belonging—and an inability to see this disconnect—that drives a sense of alienation that not only divides us as a nation, but tragically leads to despair and an erosion of individual self-worth and belief in opportunity.
While the problems before us as a nation often seem daunting, the good news is that both GCO and Tim Carney’s Alienated America present a framework for positive community-focused solutions that overcome deeply entrenched obstacles to opportunity and unleash prosperity at the individual, family, and community levels.
We’re thrilled that Tim Carney will be joining us for Breakthrough 2019 on September 11 in Atlanta. The event brings together some of America’s most innovative researchers, policy experts, and community-based practitioners to lead timely discussions on solutions that unlock human potential—and enable individuals, families, and communities to flourish in Georgia and around the country. Stay tuned over the course of the summer as we announce additional event keynote and discussion panel speakers.
The economy is booming: Employment is at record-breaking levels, and income and wages are finally rising again. Yet something is missing. Despite all the positive economic news, a significant percent of Georgians (and Americans broadly) have been left behind.
This group of the economically lost and destitute is the subject of a new book called The Once and Future Worker: A Vision for the Renewal of Work in America, written by Oren Cass, a think tanker and former advisor to Mitt Romney. Cass includes a number of viable solutions to America’s workforce woes in his book.
We know the unfortunate numbers: Even though gross domestic product tripled between 1975 and 2015, median wages haven’t budged. During that same time, government spending on the social safety net quadrupled. Even though our economy as a whole is more productive, many Americans haven’t seen a real rise in wages, while many others have fallen into the social-safety-net system.
This has created a type of society where many people have access to iPhones and other electronic devices once considered luxuries, but fewer and fewer have access to fruitful work, a good education, and a healthy family life. As Cass puts it, during the past few decades, “Cheap goods and plentiful transfer payments ensured that nearly all Americans could afford cable television and air conditioning, but not that they could build fulfilling lives around productive work, strong families, and healthy communities.”
Cass makes a number of recommendations to ameliorate the problem, several of which dovetail with policy prescriptions from the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO).
One of them is to emphasize alternative pathways to work aside from the traditional college route. The fact of the matter is that attempting universal college completion for all is an unrealistic goal—even though Millennials are the most college-educated generation in history, only 40 percent of them have college degrees. Looking across all generations now alive, the vast majority of Georgians lack a four-year (or higher) college degree. Doesn’t it make sense that we should tailor more training solutions to this majority?
For a solution, Cass suggests the reintroduction of “tracking” into our educational lexicon, where one pathway leads toward college enrollment and another “toward occupational training that leaves a twenty-year-old with serious work experience, a marketable skill, and $30,000 in a savings account.” That is a far more favorable outcome than the reality too often true for Millennials today: burdensome student loan debt with a college credential that increasingly lacks labor-market value. GCO invests in these types of pathways through our apprenticeships emphasis.
We know that people do better in life when they experience the benefits of meaningful work and healthy relationships. But we also know that so many cultural forces are stacked against success in these two areas. One of the biggest is the American welfare system, which keeps people trapped in cycles of dependence while reducing incentives to climb the economic ladder or form stable relationships.
That’s why the Georgia Center for Opportunity has been on the vanguard of work-focused welfare reform that gives a hand-up to struggling people while preserving the social safety net for those who truly need it. The great news is that we’re seeing growing momentum—both at the state and national level—to make these reforms a reality.
Georgia lawmakers are poised to consider legislation in the General Assembly to take significant steps on welfare reform—what we call the “right to strive”—while nationally we are seeking waivers to expedite the reform package at the state level. In recent months, we’ve presented our welfare research to Georgia’s Rural Economic Development Committee, created by former Gov. Nathan Deal and the legislature to help rural Georgia communities become more competitive economically. The committee was already well aware of the damage caused by welfare cliffs in the lives of individuals and businesses, so they were very welcoming of our input. We’ve also met with policymakers in Washington, D.C., on our welfare reform proposals.
The changes can’t come soon enough. Although the Georgia economy is booming with a historic 3.6% unemployment rate, these trendlines obscure a hidden workforce crisis: Millions of Americans aren’t counted in the official unemployment rate because they’ve simply given up looking for work. A crucial step in the right direction for these non-working individuals is to create a welfare system that helps—rather than hinders—their connection to meaningful work.
The most important changes in our proposal are to reduce welfare “cliffs,” a scenario where benefit drop-offs unfairly punish workers for earning more and moving up the economic ladder. Secondly, our proposals eliminate the marriage penalty that encourages single parenthood.
A big step to accomplish this is by consolidating the major 15 welfare programs hosted by federal, state, and local agencies into five coordinated programs, headed by a sole lead agency. In the end, our reforms stabilize the safety net for those who truly need it, adopt a “work first” approach for those who are able, and create incentives to form marriages and households.
We’re optimistic that we will soon see work- and family-focused “right-to-strive” reforms in Georgia. Interested in learning more? Don’t miss our three-part series of reports on welfare reform: Part 1, part 2, and part 3.
There’s no doubt about it: Marriage is in crisis today, both in Georgia and across the United States. But even as we grieve declining marriage rates among young people—many of whom choose to cohabit rather than tie the knot—and spiking divorce rates among Baby Boomers, we’re reminded that we have so much to celebrate. And we have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about what the future holds.
Why? Because we know that healthy marriages are a cornerstone of our society. And they’ll always be. We know that married people tend to be happier, healthier, wealthier, and enjoy more stability in their lives. Those benefits also extend to kids, who perform better in school and have a far slimmer chance of being in poverty.
In the spirit of celebrating all that’s great about marriage, we’re thrilled to recognize National Marriage Week (February 7-14) leading up to Valentine’s Day. National Marriage Week seeks to foster collaboration around the country to “strengthen individual marriages, reduce the divorce rate, and build a culture that fosters strong marriages.”
One of our core goals here at Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) is to give couples the tools they need to not just survive, but thrive in their marriages. Empirical research clearly tells us that marriage is a crucial step toward achieving economic and relational stability. In fact, it’s one part of the three-part “success sequence”: Those who get a good education, work full-time, and marry before having children are nearly guaranteed a place in the middle class.
This National Marriage Week, if you’re looking for ways to strengthen your own relationship or help others strengthen theirs, here are several practical ways to get started:
- Sign up for a “Build my Relationship” web conference: GCO’s Healthy Families Initiativeis now offering a new way to connect with licensed professionals via a series of live web conferences. You’ll have the opportunity to engage in conversation with our experts and gain insight into other resources and tools available to build your best relationship. Register Now.
- Attend a “Prepping for Romance” workshop: A “best of the best” relationship training workshop. Prepping for Romance helps build communication skills and provides the tools to create a solid marriage foundation. Register Now.
- Help a teen with our “How to Avoid Falling for a Jerk or Jerkette” workshop: Want to help your teens navigate the challenging waters of dating and relationships and build a strong foundation for marriage? This interactive workshop is designed specifically for high school students and teaches them how to effectively date with long-term, healthy relationships in mind. Register Now.