Social Mobility Memos

Brookings Scholars’ Take on “Our Kids”

Joanna Venator and Richard V. Reeves

Robert Putnam’s new book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis has become a must-read in policy circles for discussions about social mobility. Much ink has been spilled on the ideas within this book, not least by our own scholars at Brookings. In case you’ve missed the Our Kids train, here’s a selection of reviews and opinions from Brookings’ scholars on Putnam’s book:

  1. Isabel Sawhill in Education Next: “To me, this is the message of Robert Putnam’s new book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis…We are dividing into two very different Americas. As a society, we are sorting ourselves by income, by family structure and parenting styles, and by the kinds of communities in which we live…[T]he book is a treasure trove of research and of stories of how the opportunity gap plays out in the lives of real people.”
  2. E.J. Dionne in conversation with Richard Reeves and Robert Putnam for The Brookings Cafeteria Podcast: “You used a phrase that really struck me and possibly might help people on different sides of our debate understand what you’re trying to say: We have a red problem and a blue problem in America and we’ve got to acknowledge both and come together to acknowledge both.”
  3. Richard Reeves on the Georgetown Poverty Summit remarks by Putnam, President Obama , Arthur Brooks, and E.J. Dionne: “Although there was inevitably disagreement on the panel, one shared message was the need for a “both/and” perspective rather than an “either/or” view of poverty. It is a mistake to see poverty as a solely economic concern and ignore the role of culture, norms, and character and a mistake to do the opposite.”
  4. Isabel Sawhill as part of the Social Mobility Memos series on The Great Gatsby Curve: “There are growing class-related gaps in family structure, parenting styles, school test scores, college attendance and graduation, and neighborhood conditions. Much of the evidence can be found in a series of ‘scissor charts/ in Robert Putnam’s book, Our Kids. One thing is quite clear: whatever the gaps in an earlier generation between kids from more and less advantaged families, they are much wider now.”
  5. Richard Reeves in The Guardian“The difference between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ was once economic. Differences in social trust, family life, parenting and community vitality were minimal. Now, though, the haves have it all…The concatenation of advantages and disadvantages is visible in economic sorting at the neighborhood level, leading to social sorting in terms of schools, churches and community groups.” 

Putnam’s work has sparked discussion among 2016 hopefuls as well. Hillary Clinton brought up the issue when she announced her candidacy, saying that “Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times. But the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top.” Top Republican candidates are concerned about the “increasing gap between rich and poor” as well. But will Our Kids lead to new policies in 2016? Only time will tell.

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