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What Obama and Romney aren't talking about: America's class divide

I am the proud son of a hardworking milkman. I also have a PhD from Yale. Therein lies a story of class mobility, an issue that is crucial for America's future and that ought to be part of the presidential campaign. Yet neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney will address class head on.

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaigns at Con-Air Industries in Orlando, Fla. June 12. Democrats and Republicans are wary of trying to exploit a new report about the sharp drop in household wealth. Op-ed contributor John J. Pitney Jr. writes: 'The shortage of simple solutions is one reason why politicians avoid the issue of social class. Moreover, the two presidential candidates – both prep-school graduates with Harvard law degrees – have little in common with...less-well-educated people.'

Evan Vucci/AP

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I am the proud son of a hardworking milkman. I also have a PhD from Yale. Such a combination is a bit unusual, and a new book suggests that it will become even rarer. Therein lies a story of class mobility, an issue that is crucial for our country’s future and that ought to be part of the presidential campaign.

In “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010,” political scientist Charles Murray amasses a large amount of data to show that the United States has developed a new kind of class system. (He focuses on whites in order to drive home that it’s not just a matter affecting blacks, Hispanics, and other racial or ethnic groups.)

Members of the highly educated upper class set themselves apart from other Americans not only by where they dwell, but also by how they raise their children and conduct other aspects of their daily lives. Obviously, members of the lower class have less money, but ominous trends have been converging to keep them on the bottom. These trends include falling rates of labor force participation (even before the Great Recession) and rising rates of out-of-wedlock births.

Of course, class has always been with us. When I helped my father on his milk truck, we went to all the finest houses in town – making deliveries at the back door. But in the 1950s and ’60s, young people of modest means could see their way over the class wall. One of my classmates came from a broken home and grew up in public housing. He became a lawyer and is now mayor of our hometown.

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