Two Recent Articles in The Atlantic

I’ve been behind in updating the blog, but I wanted to mention two articles I wrote recently for The Atlantic‘s website.

America, Home of the Transactional Marriage” looks at the ways that marriages fray after a job loss—which, in today’s tough economy, hurts working-class people particularly hard:

Why are those with less education—the working class—entering into, and staying in, traditional family arrangements in smaller and smaller numbers?… What’s at the core of those changes is a larger shift: The disappearance of good jobs for people with less education has made it harder for them to start, and sustain, relationships. What’s more, the U.S.’s relatively meager safety net makes the cost of being unemployed even steeper than it is in other industrialized countries—which prompts many Americans to view the decision to stay married with a jobless partner in more transactional, economic terms. And this isn’t only because of the financial ramifications of losing a job, but, in a country that puts such a premium on individual achievement, the emotional and psychological consequences as well. Even when it comes to private matters of love and lifestyle, the broader social structure—the state of the economy, the availability of good jobs, and so on—matters a great deal.

Last month’s “Are Campus Activists Too Dogmatic?” was my take on campus politics and the counterproductive focus on sin:

At the core of the issue is a troubling tendency, on both the left and right, that goes well beyond college campuses: a consuming obsession with sin. Given the right’s religious base, it’s not all that surprising that conservatives focus on moral transgressions—whether they violate God’s divine law, America’s founding ideals of liberty, ’50s-style norms of sexual behavior and good housekeeping, or other codes of conduct. But the left can be prudish and judgmental about the evils it holds in special contempt, too. On college campuses in particular, activists often take an almost religious approach to politics, rooted in a belief—sometimes stated, sometimes implied—in the irredeemable sin of America and its mainstream. Their work on vital issues gets diverted from real-world objectives and takes on the character of a church revival, with rituals to express its believers’ sin and salvation, and a fundamentalist attention to language and doctrine.

By the way, on Monday I’ll be doing a live, on-air interview on KERA, the NPR station in Dallas.  I’ll be on THINK, the station’s daily talk show, talking about my piece for The Atlantic about transactional marriages. The interview will be from 1-2 p.m. ET (12-1 p.m. CT), and it looks like you can listen to it online at keranews.org. Thanks for all your support!

Posts, Podcasts, and Presentations (plus, a Prize)

I’ve been remiss about mentioning some recent developments. Perhaps the biggest news is that I received the 2017 Dunlop Outstanding Scholar Award from the Labor and Employment Relations Association (LERA). The Dunlop award—named after the former Secretary of Labor and past president of LERA, John T. Dunlop—”recognizes the best contribution to research that addresses an industrial relations/employment problem of national significance.” (VCU later featured me in a Q&A and a news release about the award.)

I’m going to shove all my other news into the rest of this post, using that friend of professors everywhere, the bullet-point list:

  • Last month I was invited to speak at a conference hosted by the US Department of Health and Human Services in Washington. My lecture slides for the conference, Deep Poverty in the United States (sponsored by the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the Urban Institute), can be found here.
  • I was interviewed by CUNY’s Richard Ocejo for the podcast New Books Network (NBn). We discussed my book Cut Loose and had a wide-ranging conversation about inequality, technology, and the economy. (Rich just came out with a great new book, Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy, which was featured on NPR’s Marketplace.)
  • I wrote a post for the blog Working-Class Perspectives on MIT economist Peter Temin’s new book The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy. (No relation to my previous book, The Missing Class.) I discuss Temin’s theory that changes in the economy and political system have created two Americas: a well-educated and well-connected minority, and a majority falling into stagnation and despair.
  • I was invited to write a short essay for Contexts, the American Sociological Association’s magazine, as part of a panel of scholars writing about the white working class and its politics, including its role in the 2016 presidential election.
  • I was quoted for stories about food stamps that ran on the NPR affiliate and ABC affiliate here in Richmond.
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New Essay (from Old Talk)

If you had better things to do and somehow missed my book talk at Boston College, now you can read (for free!) an essay adapted from it in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal Religions. Here is the link. Or get the PDF here. (Note: To my knowledge, the essay has nothing to do with the Grim Reaper on the journal’s cover.)

Victor-Chen-Elizabeth-Warren-Growing-ApartI gave the talk as one of three plenary speakers for Growing Apart: The Implications of Economic Inequality, an interdisciplinary conference sponsored by Boston College’s Jesuit Institute last year. The other plenary speakers were Senator Elizabeth Warren and Dr. Shaji George Kochuthara of Dharmaran College in Bangalore, India. Senator Warren opened for me. (Not really. But technically speaking, she did go before me. On another stage. On another day.) In the talk, I discuss my concept of the “morality of grace,” among other things.

In unrelated news, for a long while now I’ve been meaning to post the audio of a radio interview I did on the Matt Townsend Show. At last, here it is. In our conversation, I talk about my Atlantic article “The Spiritual Crisis of the Modern Economy.”

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New Essay on Trump’s American Dream

Worker on city street

Here is an essay I wrote about what I think the Trump administration is likely to do for/to the working class. (It was originally published on the University of California Press’s blog and republished on In The Fray.) An excerpt:

In his pronouncements from the bully pulpit, [Trump] has made it clear that he is about America “winning”—as he personally, through his attainment of extravagant wealth and fame, believes he has done. But the pursuit of a Trumpian American dream of materialism and self-interest will take us even farther from the civic-minded ideals of the early republic. As rising inequality stamps out opportunities for rags-to-riches stories of success, and the Trump administration’s promises to working people prove to be worthless, that narrow dream of national greatness may, in fact, take on another, darker meaning: as George Carlin put it, “It’s called the American dream ’cause you have to be asleep to believe it.”

You can read the entire essay here.

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Interview on The Joy Cardin Show

I was featured on an hour-long segment of The Joy Cardin Show, a call-in news program on NPR-affiliated Wisconsin Public Radio. We discussed some of the themes of my recent Atlantic essay and my book, such as how changes in the modern economy are hurting workers, especially those without a college degree (who still account for two-thirds of Americans over twenty-five). It was interesting to hear from the callers, a few of whom talked about how America’s elites look down on the working class. You can listen to the audio here.

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My Essay in The Atlantic: The Spiritual Crisis of the Modern Economy

I’ve written a piece for The Atlantic about the hollowness of our modern economy and the effect it has on the working class. Here is an excerpt:

The modern economy privileges the well-educated and highly-skilled, while giving them an excuse to denigrate the people at the bottom (both white and nonwhite) as lazy, untalented, uneducated, and unsophisticated. In a society focused on meritocratic, materialistic success, many well-off Americans from across the political spectrum scorn the white working class in particular for holding onto religious superstitions and politically incorrect views, and pity them for working lousy jobs at dollar stores and fast-food restaurants that the better-off rarely set foot in. And when other sources of meaning are hard to come by, those who struggle in the modern economy can lose their sense of self-worth.

You can read more here. At the moment (before more Trump news pushes it off), it’s on The Atlantic‘s front page.

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Extremely Exhausting

The Atlantic has published a piece I wrote about living in an extreme meritocracy:

Increasingly sophisticated data-gathering technologies measure performance across very different domains, from how students score on high-stakes tests at school (or for that matter, how they behave in class), to what consumers purchase and for how much, to how dangerous a risk—or tempting a target—a prospective borrower is, based on whatever demographic and behavioral data the credit industry can hoover up.… Statistical models that measure performance have biases that arise from those of their creators. As a result, algorithms are often unfair and sometimes harmful.… But as serious as their shortcomings are, the widespread use of decision-making algorithms points to an even bigger problem: Even if models could be perfected, what does it mean to live in a culture that defers to data, that sorts and judges with unrelenting, unforgiving precision?

Here’s the full story.

This post also appears on In The Fray.