Like many of you here, I thoroughly enjoy reading and discussing the various factors that are leading to the organizations demise. From anecdotes and deep personal experiences to the ARC and official JW.BORG statistics, I often marvel that an organization that seemed so robust a few decades ago is so rapidly declining. Yet, I think it sometimes valuable to take a step back and discuss some of the wider national and global current that have a massive impact on Watchtower and organized religion as a whole. One area that fascinates me immensely is how the wider economic system affects the organization and contributes or hampers its growth.
I’ve taken some time, done some research, and hope to share some of that with you today. To start, I would like to explain some of the reasoning behind my methodology. I have chosen to only examine the United States, partly due to my own familiarity with its economics and partly because the U.S. is the financial and theological heart of the organization.
So, let’s begin. In the 1950s, women made up less than 30 percent of the U.S. workforce and those that did work, often stuck in more menial jobs for less pay. As the decades continued, women’s percentage of the workforce steadily increased. By 1980, that number had jumped up to around 43 percent (despite being 52 % of the population). Still, most married women continued to be “stay-at-home,” while their husbands worked full time and supported the family. According to Pew Research study done in 2012, the percentage of women who were “stay-at-home” was cut in half between 1970 and 2012 for a variety of reasons. This number is probably more dramatic for witness; however, because that same study clearly outlines that this reduction of “stay-at-home” women was more pronounced for women in poverty and those with no college education. In addition, we know, from this Pew Study, that witnesses have a vast deviation from the normal populace when it comes to those two demographics.
How does this change affect the organization today? With two parents forced to work full time, it leaves significantly less time for “spiritual” pursuits. The former model of husband breadwinner and wife pioneer is increasingly becoming less tenable. It also is harder for a man to “reach out” spiritually when he now has to split his home responsibilities with his now working equally wife. Anecdotally, as a child my mother pioneered and so did nearly all the “stay-at- home” wives. Now, that same demographic is working full time and, at best, showing up regularly on Saturday for service only.
Another topic that gets a lot of attention of this board because it hits most of so personally is the organization’s increasingly untenable attitude towards higher education. Because of increased unionization, less outsourcing, and less cheap immigrant labor, there were decades of time when a witness could skip higher education altogether and still attain a slice of the American dream, including home ownership. Since the 1980s, however, union membership has nearly been cut in half, cheap immigrant labor has lowered wages in many service sector jobs, and outsourcing has dramatically diminished the availability of warehouse and factory jobs. While these trends have a huge impact on the entire workforce, the witnesses are especially affected BECAUSE of their inability to adapt to the changing market conditions via education and career development.
These statistics are backed up by what I have seen with my own eyes in my area. Many of the brothers that are now elders and “pillars of the congregation” began small cleaning businesses in the late 70s and early 80s. While few of them became rich off it, they were able to maintain a decent lifestyle, take regular vacations, save some cash for retirement, own a home, and most importantly for the organization, have money left over to put in the donation box. Those brothers are now looking at younger ones now and telling them to not go to school, not understanding today’s economic conditions or how difficult it is to support yourself with a high school diploma and chipper personality. I would wager a guess that this same generational divide exists in almost every congregation worldwide.
The result is that we have a younger generation of witnesses who are discouraged from higher education and encouraged to become window washers and carpet cleaners. While in decades past, this could have been a legitimate career path, this is no longer a viable option for many. You get left with a number of 20 and 30 something year olds who still live with their parents and have no real alternative way to support themselves. So now you have an older generation who may have donated in the past, overburdened financially by adult children and a lackluster retirement, reducing the amount of money they can donate.
The immigration policies of the past few decades have also greatly impacted the American witness. With NAFTA and other early 90s immigration policies, the American economy has seen a HUGE influx of cheap immigrant labor from Mexico and other Latin American countries. These often hardworking individuals have come to dominate certain “less desirable” sectors of the workforce, many of which used to safe refuges of the witnesses. Jobs like landscaping, window washing, and home cleaning are now almost entirely held by immigrant labor, most of which are willing to take very meager wages. While great for those workers, it has wreaked havoc on American-born witnesses, who now have to accept much lower wages. This shift in the workforce has created a tremendous amount of anxiety among American workers, which has contributed to the rise of the vile and disgusting Trump campaign. This intense xenophobia stems from a much broader concern for the low income worker, many of whom now rely on government services to put a roof over their head and food on their table.
American immigration policy is incredibly complex and rather controversial, so I don’t want to waste too much time on the topic at this moment. But, it has had a colossal impact of the sectors of economy that witnesses tend to gravitate towards. Without the sweet comfort of that window washing job, witnesses are increasingly being forced to choose between defying Watchtower and getting and education or spending their whole lives scraping to survive and rely on the wicked government to support them. Fortunately, many are choosing former, which partially accounts for the low retention rates among young witnesses.
This is just small snippet of the research I have done on the topic and I guess I will post more if this is something that resonates. For those of you who have gotten this far, I give you a big thank you.