A political scientist calls attention to the widening class-based opportunity gap among young people in the United States.
Putnam (Public Policy/Harvard Univ.; co-author: American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, 2010, etc.) author of the best-selling Bowling Alone (2000), argues that the American dream has faded for poor children in the past five decades. Beginning with the stories of individuals, he compares the opportunities for upward mobility in his hometown of Port Clinton, Ohio, when he was in high school (he graduated in 1959) with the situation today, and he finds tremendous differences. For getting ahead in the world, social class mattered relatively little then, but now it is paramount, and the institutions, both public and private, that helped young people of all backgrounds are no longer serving the disadvantaged well. Putnam expands his view from his hometown to a number of towns across the U.S., looking at how young people in different social classes fare. Using personal stories, statistics and studies, and focusing in turn on families, parenting, schooling and community, the author demonstrates that the class gap in America has been growing. Although there is a fair amount of repetition, occasional sociological jargon and perhaps too much use of illustrative personal stories, Putnam’s prose is highly readable, and the figures and tables that dot the text are generally simple and clear. In the final chapter, Putnam discusses what this disparity in opportunity means for the future of our country economically and politically, as well as what it says about our ideals and values. He then tackles the question of what to do about it, offering a number of specific ideas and citing approaches that have had positive results. The best hope is a strong economy that benefits less-educated, low-paid workers.
An insightful book that paints a disturbing picture of the collapse of the working class and the growth of an upper class that seems to be largely unaware of the other’s precarious existence.