Is the American Dream Becoming a Myth?August 7, 2014
This morning, NPR provided a stunning report on how the circumstances of children’s birth determine their futures. In the forthcoming book The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood, researchers from Johns Hopkins University report on their study of nearly 800 schoolkids from Baltimore over a 25-year period. Their findings are disturbing, to say the least.
According to The Long Shadow, kids’ opportunities to prosper – or not – are largely determined by the families they’re born into. Kids with wealthy, married parents generally do well; kids from impoverished, single-parent households generally don’t. So, for example, only 33 of the children from low-income families managed to move into higher income brackets, less than half of what would have been expected if family circumstances weren’t a factor. Kids from low-income families were less likely to go to college, less likely to get decent jobs, and more likely to end up in jail than their wealthier peers. Separately reporting on the study, Hub.com quoted one of the co-authors, sociologist Karl Alexander, as saying that “‘a family’s resources and the doors they open cast a long shadow over children’s life trajectories… This view is at odds with the popular ethos that we are makers of our own fortune.'”
So, here’s my concern. The resource disparity between the rich and the rest of us continues to widen. I believe that the public has tolerated the growing wealth gap, at least in part, because they still believe that, with hard work and talent, anyone can make it in America. The Johns Hopkins study demonstrates otherwise. The longer we tolerate a business model that richly rewards the few while generating widespread and deepening poverty, the more doors we close in the faces of our children and grandchildren. We can’t expect future generations to pull themselves up by their bootstraps if their parents can’t make enough money to provide them with any.
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