At a recent dinner party, it was wondered why our society appears to be pulling apart. I observed that sometimes unfortunate consequences flow from otherwise benign changes. I illustrated with a “tale of two families,” both known to me in my rural central Illinois setting.

When I was a boy post-World War II, small towns and cities not too different from mine tended to have a more diverse and balanced economic mix than today, or so I aver. There would be a small manufacturer or two, generally family owned; a banker or two; several doctors; a number of independent main street businesses; factory workers, school janitors, farmers.

The leading families did indeed, in my town at least, live on a hill, and there were the right and wrong sides of the railroad track. Yet, the bankers’ children went to the same local public school along with the janitors’ kids. Sometimes their kids even married. Most families, certainly the factory workers who often car-pooled to one of the CAT plants in Peoria, considered themselves properly middle class.

This brings me to the two families I use to illustrate how we have tended to pull apart in socioeconomic terms since then.

The simple table accompanying this writing shows how two rather typical families on the same tree-lined block back then have seen their grandchildren pulled far apart in income and residential location.