Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

America Escapes Again

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

America Escapes Again

Article excerpt

THE SOURCE: "Crime, Drugs, Welfare--and Other Good News" by Peter Wehner and Yuval Levin, in Commentary, Dec. 2007.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO, CONSERVative social commentators were predicting a precipitous and seemingly inexorable national decline. Former education secretary and drug czar William J. Bennett summed up the evidence most starkly: Since 1960 violent crime had increased 500 percent; out-of-wedlock births, 400 percent. The teenage suicide rate had tripled and the divorce rate had doubled. SAT scores had plunged by more than 70 points.

Then, "just when it seemed as if the storm clouds were about to burst, they began to part," write Peter Wehner and Yuval Levin, fellows at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington. The rates of both violent and property crime fell between 1993 and 2005, reaching their lowest levels since 1973, the first year for which data are available. Teenage drag use declined 23 percent from the rates of the 1990s. Welfare caseloads shrank 60 percent from their peak. Annual abortions decreased from 1.6 to 1.3 million. And the mean SAT score was eight points higher in 2005 than in 1993, the year Bennett issued his warning.

The change is "impressive, undeniable, and beyond what most people thought possible" say Wehner and Levin. It appears that it flowed from changes in government policy combined "with a more-or-less simultaneous shift in public attitudes, with each sustaining and feeding the other."

While policy changes played a clear role in the fall in the rates of crime, welfare dependency, and drug use and in the rise in test scores, the authors write, the decrease in abortions seems to have grassroots causes. …

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