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America’s Opportunity Chasm: A Noted Scholar Documents Our Decline in Social Mobility

July/August 2015


Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis
By Robert D. Putnam
Simon & Schuster. 386 pages.
ISBN: 9781476769899


In his discomforting new book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, the noted Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam, author of the classic Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, documents the myriad psychological, educational, health, and political consequences of the ever-growing disparities between rich and poor in America today. His message is clear: depending on your socioeconomic status, your children will pay the cost—or reap the benefits.

Studies increasingly show, he writes, that “healthy brain development in American children turns out to be closely correlated with parental education, income, and social class.” The children of poverty are at higher risk for elevated levels of cortisol (the so-called “stress hormone”), impaired emotional regulation, and a potentially decreased ability to concentrate. Affluent children are estimated to be exposed to 19 million more words by kindergarten than working-class or welfare families. And that’s just the beginning of the negative cascade of effects that poverty sets off in children’s lives. It’s also the opposite of the positive cycle set in motion by stable family structures, intensive parenting styles, and a host of other resources, both financial and social.

Putnam has distilled a massive amount of research into a devastating indictment of the lack…

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