A New York Times bestseller and “a passionate, urgent” (The New Yorker) examination of the growing inequality gap from the bestselling author of Bowling Alone: why fewer Americans today have the opportunity for upward mobility.
Central to the very idea of America is the principle that we are a nation of opportunity. But over the last quarter century we have seen a disturbing “opportunity gap” emerge. We Americans have always believed that those who have talent and try hard will succeed, but this central tenet of the American Dream seems no longer true or at the least, much less true than it was.
In Our Kids, Robert Putnam offers a personal and authoritative look at this new American crisis, beginning with the example of his high school class of 1959 in Port Clinton, Ohio. The vast majority of those students went on to lives better than those of their parents. But their children and grandchildren have faced diminishing prospects. Putnam tells the tale of lessening opportunity through poignant life stories of rich, middle class, and poor kids from cities and suburbs across the country, brilliantly blended with the latest social-science research.
“A truly masterful volume” (Financial Times), Our Kids provides a disturbing account of the American dream that is “thoughtful and persuasive” (The Economist). Our Kids offers a rare combination of individual testimony and rigorous evidence: “No one can finish this book and feel complacent about equal opportunity” (The New York Times Book Review).
In this ambitious study, Putnam expands his analysis of America's social breakdown from 2001's Bowling Alone to 21st-century upward mobility, though his interpretation seems somewhat muddled by nostalgia for the idea that the 1950s were a paradise of class parity. He states that, though 95% of Americans still endorse "equal opportunity" in principle, increasing ghettoization of neighborhoods by class has yielded a two-tier social system and widening opportunity gap for children that's largely independent of cultural ideology. The gap begins at birth, and may be insurmountable by school age. Extended interviews with people who grew up rich and poor in the author's hometown of Port Clinton, Ohio, both in the 1950s and more recently, provide perspective but feel as much positioned to pull at the heartstrings as to serve as data. Though Putnam gives solutions less attention than problems, he recommends expanding the EITC and child tax credit, protecting anti-poverty programs to reduce financial and emotional stress for families, reducing sentencing for non-violent crime to keep two-parent households intact, investing extra money in schools in poor neighborhoods, and killing "pay to play" extracurriculars. Putnam's points about the changes in American society in the last few generations are strong, but his utter dismissal of the independent effects of race and educational level may infuriate more intersectional scholars.