The recession is tearing America's social fabric

This recession has exposed America’s social weak spots. For decades, men have adapted poorly to the shifting demands of the service economy. Now they are paying the price. For decades, the working-class social fabric has been fraying. Now the working class is in danger of descending into underclass-style dysfunction. For decades, young people have been living in a loose, under-institutionalized world. Now they are moving back home in droves.

The economic response to the crisis is everywhere debated, but the social response is unformed. First, we need to redefine masculinity, creating an image that encourages teenage boys to stay in school and older men to pursue service jobs. Evangelical churches have done a lot to show how manly men can still be nurturing. Obviously, more needs to be done, and schools need to be more boy-friendly.

Second, antipoverty programs have long focused their efforts on inner cities, but now there also is great vulnerability in working-class places like central Pennsylvania and rural Michigan. Many social workers are not exactly comfortable in socially conservative areas, but if the working class disintegrates, then look out.

Third, Facebook is great, but social networking sites do not by themselves create support networks when jobs disappear and poverty looms. Somebody has to provide institutions for unaffiliated 24-year-olds.