The Washington Post's interactive ZIP code map is compelling. Just plug in a ZIP code or type in a city and it will tell you the level of education and median income level of the people who live there — and sometimes imply how rich and isolated they are.
Type in ZIP code 10065, a nice place off Central Park in New York City, and you will find a median income of $111,334 with 78 percent college graduates. That is just the median income, though. Half of the people make more, half less. Try 07976, in New Vernon, N.J., and median income is $217,500 with 66 percent college graduates. In 84128 in West Valley City, Utah, the median income is $66,471 with 13 percent college graduates.
But this interactive feature isn't just a fun way of seeing if one neighborhood is higher up the education or income ranking; it illustrates a problem articulated by social historian Charles Murray in his book "Coming Apart."
An article by Frederick Lynch in the Los Angeles Times summarizes Murray's argument: "Murray, the W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, contends that before the 1960s, Americans of all classes participated in a traditional common culture of civic and social engagement that valued marriage, industriousness, honesty and religiosity . Today, that culture persists among highly educated elites."
These elites live in isolation — and so know little about how the other half (or maybe even the other 99 percent) live.
"Murray describes a new, highly educated upper class of the most successful 5 percent of professionals and managers who direct the nation's major institutions," Lynch continues. "Most reside in high-income, socially homogeneous 'super ZIP codes' near urban power centers."
Which brings us back to the Washington Post interactive map and article.
The Post's article by Carol Morello and Ted Mellnik focuses on the highest concentration of these super ZIPS: "A Washington Post analysis of the latest census data shows that more than a third of ZIP codes in the D.C. metro area rank in the top 5 percent nationally for income and education. But what makes the region truly unusual is that so many of the high-end ZIP codes are contiguous. They form a vast land mass that bounds across 717 square miles. One in four households in the region are in a super ZIP, according to the Post analysis."
The problem, articulated by Murray and repeated in the Washington Post article, is that elites are becoming increasingly isolated, whereas in the past, there was more interaction between the classes. "In an era in which women had fewer educational and professional opportunities, lawyers married secretaries and doctors married nurses," the Post article says. "Now, lawyers and doctors marry each other."
Murray wrote in the Wall Street Journal: "And the isolation is only going to get worse. Increasingly, the people who run the country were born into that world. Unlike the typical member of the elite in 1960, they have never known anything but the new upper-class culture. We are now seeing more and more third-generation members of the elite. Not even their grandparents have been able to give them a window into life in the rest of America."
In the Wall Street Journal and his book, Murray identified some of the top super ZIPs in the country:
- 60043: Kenilworth, Ill. (Chicago area)
- 60022: Glencoe, Ill. (Chicago area)
- 07078: Short Hills, N.J. (New York City area)
- 94027: Atherton, Calif. (San Francisco area)
- 10514: Chappaqua, N.Y. (New York City area)
And you also may be living in an isolated bubble world of elites.