Our kids The American Dream in crisis

Robert D. Putnam

Book - 2015

"A groundbreaking examination of the growing inequality gap from the bestselling author of Bowling Alone: why fewer Americans today have the opportunity for upward mobility. It's the American dream: get a good education, work hard, buy a house, and achieve prosperity and success. This is the America we believe in--a nation of opportunity, constrained only by ability and effort. But during the last twenty-five years we have seen a disturbing "opportunity gap" emerge. Americans... have always believed in equality of opportunity, the idea that all kids, regardless of their family background, should have a decent chance to improve their lot in life. Now, this central tenet of the American dream seems no longer true or at the least, much less true than it was. Robert Putnam--about whom The Economist said, "his scholarship is wide-ranging, his intelligence luminous, his tone modest, his prose unpretentious and frequently funny"--offers a personal but also authoritative look at this new American crisis. Putnam begins with his high school class of 1959 in Port Clinton, Ohio. By and large the vast majority of those students--"our kids"--went on to lives better than those of their parents. But their children and grandchildren have had harder lives amid diminishing prospects. Putnam tells the tale of lessening opportunity through poignant life stories of rich and poor kids from cities and suburbs across the country, drawing on a formidable body of research done especially for this book. Our Kids is a rare combination of individual testimony and rigorous evidence. Putnam provides a disturbing account of the American dream that should initiate a deep examination of the future of our country"--

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Subjects
Published
New York : Simon & Schuster 2015.
Language
English
Physical Description
386 pages
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN
9781476769899
1476769893
Main Author
Robert D. Putnam (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Putnam (American Grace, 2012) tackles the enormously important issue of income inequality in the U.S. in this powerful blend of social and economic research. He vividly tells the personal stories of several American families that show the vastly different experiences resulting from their disparate incomes. Using his Ohio hometown as a springboard, Putnam revisits the accomplishments of his classmates, who, to varying degrees, all improved upon the economic accomplishments of their parents. This is no longer the case there, however. Traveling from Bend, Oregon, to Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Orange County, California, he focuses on how current income disparity directly influences the family, parenting, schooling, and community circumstances modern children are subjected to nationwide. This is not about lack of love—Putnam makes no judgments on good versus bad relationships—but rather it is about time, opportunity, and, in cases of extreme poverty, food and health care. Putnam casts a wide net, including Caucasian, African American, and Hispanic families, and he carefully weaves pertinent economic data and analysis into each chapter. Most important, the current physical separation between rich and poor is given careful consideration. "Bend is a small community," one teen blithely asserts, "and you don't see a whole lot of poverty." Here's hoping that young man reads about what Putnam uncovered in his town. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

Putnam (Harvard Univ.) is the author of Bowling Alone (CH, Dec'00, 38-2454).  In his latest book, he examines class structure and inequality.  Using classmates from his own high school class of 1959, Putnam examines the "opportunity gap," upward mobility, and the American dream of working hard to gain income and social status.  He finds that for many poor and uneducated Americans, this is likely a myth.  He also finds that though race is a significant factor in life outcomes, class-based characteristics have more bearing on outcomes for children.  His recommendations echo those of other scholars: improving quality and access to public education and providing a living wage as long-term strategies.  Unlike other more academic writers, he weaves storytelling with scholarly research and policy implications. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels. --L. T. Grover, Southern University and A&M College Leslie T Grover Southern University and A&M College http://dx.doi.org/10.5860/CHOICE.191635 Copyright 2014 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

The Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard, Putnam made us sit up and think about our tearing social fabric with 2000's Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Now he looks at something else that's tearing: the great American Dream of upward social mobility. In the last 25 years, our belief that anyone could get ahead through hard work has been increasingly challenged; it's ever harder for people to live better lives than their parents did. Deep research and wide-ranging portraits show what diminished opportunity means for this country. [Page 63]. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Putnam, a renowned scientist, leading humanist, and author of numerous books on public policy issues, such as Bowling Alone, makes the case that fewer Americans today have the opportunity for upward mobility compared to those who grew up in the 1950s. Beginning with his own experience in Port Clinton, OH, in the Fifties, the author uses data from publicly available research and interviews. The interviews feature a cross-section of rich and poor young adults and their parents from various communities, urban and suburban; although one wonders about the challenges of rural America. The author makes the point that "All trends reported…are based on nationally represented samples, including all races." Putnam reminds us of our moral obligation to address the opportunity gap and suggests some public policy initiatives to address the problem—steps such as instituting nationwide early childhood education and restoring working-class wages. Jennifer M. Silva, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University and author of Coming Up Short, is credited in the methodology section as having provided the interviews. VERDICT The title and subtitle speak to the author's passion and belief that today's family and community support are less readily available to kids from such modest backgrounds than in the past and that Americans need to address this problem for the benefit of all children. Recommended for academic and public library collections. [See Prepub Alert, 9/8/14.]—Karen Venturella, Union Cty. Coll. Libs, Cranford, NJ [Page 124]. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

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. (Mar.) [Page ]. Copyright 2014 PWxyz LLC

Review by PW Annex Reviews

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. (Mar.) [Page ]. Copyright 2014 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

In an authoritative, yet personal, examination of the growing inequality gap, a leading humanist and renowned scientist who has consulted for the last four U.S. Presidents, drawing on poignant life stories of rich and poor kids across the country, provides a disturbing account of the American dream. By the author of Bowling Alone. Includes 30 charts and graphs.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Drawing on life stories of rich and poor kids across the country, provides a disturbing account of the American dream.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

"A groundbreaking examination of the growing inequality gap from the bestselling author of Bowling Alone: why fewer Americans today have the opportunity for upward mobility. It's the American dream: get a good education, work hard, buy a house, and achieve prosperity and success. This is the America we believe in--a nation of opportunity, constrained only by ability and effort. But during the last twenty-five years we have seen a disturbing "opportunity gap" emerge. Americans have always believed in equality of opportunity, the idea that all kids, regardless of their family background, should have a decent chance to improve their lot in life. Now, this central tenet of the American dream seems no longer true or at the least, much less true than it was.Robert Putnam--about whom The Economist said, "his scholarship is wide-ranging, his intelligence luminous, his tone modest, his prose unpretentious and frequently funny"--offers a personal but also authoritative look at this new American crisis. Putnam begins with his high school class of 1959 in Port Clinton, Ohio. By and large the vast majority of those students--"our kids"--went on to lives better than those of their parents. But their children and grandchildren have had harder lives amid diminishing prospects. Putnam tells the tale of lessening opportunity through poignant life stories of rich and poor kids from cities and suburbs across the country, drawing on a formidable body of research done especially for this book. Our Kids is a rare combination of individual testimony and rigorous evidence. Putnam provides a disturbing account of the American dream that should initiate a deep examination of the future of our country"--

Review by Publisher Summary 4

"The best-selling author of Bowling Alone offers a groundbreaking examination of the American Dream in crisis: how and why opportunities for upward mobility are diminishing, jeopardizing the prospects of an ever larger segment of Americans"--

Review by Publisher Summary 5

A groundbreaking examination of the growing inequality gap from the bestselling author of Bowling Alone: why fewer Americans today have the opportunity for upward mobility.It’s the American dream: get a good education, work hard, buy a house, and achieve prosperity and success. This is the America we believe in—a nation of opportunity, constrained only by ability and effort. But during the last twenty-five years we have seen a disturbing “opportunity gap” emerge. Americans have always believed in equality of opportunity, the idea that all kids, regardless of their family background, should have a decent chance to improve their lot in life. Now, this central tenet of the American dream seems no longer true or at the least, much less true than it was. Robert Putnam—about whom The Economist said, “his scholarship is wide-ranging, his intelligence luminous, his tone modest, his prose unpretentious and frequently funny”—offers a personal but also authoritative look at this new American crisis. Putnam begins with his high school class of 1959 in Port Clinton, Ohio. By and large the vast majority of those students—“our kids”—went on to lives better than those of their parents. But their children and grandchildren have had harder lives amid diminishing prospects. Putnam tells the tale of lessening opportunity through poignant life stories of rich and poor kids from cities and suburbs across the country, drawing on a formidable body of research done especially for this book. Our Kids is a rare combination of individual testimony and rigorous evidence. Putnam provides a disturbing account of the American dream that should initiate a deep examination of the future of our country.