Washington think tanks are undergoing a fundamental evolution. A lot of them, like the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution, were built to advise parties that no longer exist. They were built for a style of public debate — based on social science evidence and congressional hearings that are more than just show trials — that no longer exists. Many people at these places have discovered that they have more in common with one another than they do with the extremists on their own sides.
So suddenly there is a flurry of working together across ideological lines. Next week, for example, the group Opportunity America, with Brookings and A.E.I., will release a bipartisan agenda called “Work, Skills, Community: Restoring Opportunity for the Working Class.”
Written by a wide array of scholars, the report starts with the truth that the working class has been mostly ignored by the rest of society. Government has welfare programs to serve the poor and they have programs like 529 savings accounts to subsidize the rich. But there’s very little for families making, say, $50,000 a year.From the report:
The role of faith in working-class families is well-documented. As Robert Jones, the CEO of the polling firm PPRI, has explained it, “Churches have served, for most of the nation’s life, as pipelines to all kinds of civic engagement—and not just because they hand out voter-registration cards or have them in the lobby. We actually see a link between all kinds of civic activity and church activity.”Yet, participation in this once-central institution has declined greatly, with weekly church attendance falling from 40 percent in the 1970s to 28 percent in the 2000s among those with a high school degree or some college (figure 19).
Mirroring this decline in churchgoing, the working class is also participating less actively in other civic institutions (figure 20). According to a PPRI survey, white working-class Americans, which they define as people without a college degree who are paid by the hour or the job, have lower rates of participation in sports teams, book clubs and neighborhood associations than their more-educated peers (30 percent to 49 percent).52 Our definition of working class includes people from all races without bachelor’s degrees, and among them too, rates of civic engagement—participation in service, school or community associations, or recreational or religious organizations—are all distressingly low and more like rates for low-income than high-income adults. According to data from the Civic Engagement Supplement to the Current Population Survey, no more than 15 percent of working-class men and women participate annually in any of these activities.