Jul 10, 2012

Decline in Working Class Jobs Hurts Our Kids

New research about the bifurcation of American society has produced some alarming information about the opportunity gap in our country.

Although there is of course inequality in the standards of living among America's adults, the inequality in opportunity for our children is sometimes overlooked.  But it is a growing problem. According the the article from the NYTimes, in the decades to come, our country will be even more divided than it is now.  In decades past, kids of college-grads and high-school grads invested similarly in their children. Now, however, more affluent parents spend much more on their childrens' futures, while the less affluent have decreased in those investments.

 Aside from money, the most important thing affluent parents are giving to their kids is time. In fact, affluent parents have quadrupled the amount of time they spend with their kids, whether it be at home, supporting them at a sporting event, or driving them to any plethora of extracurricular activities.  Meanwhile, high-school educated parents have increased child-care time, but only slightly. In the previous generation of families, things were opposite, and it was the working-class families who spent more time together. But now, the attention gap in the first three years of life for working-class family kids, when it is most important, is only growing.

Of course, the gap in the amount of money we spend on our kids is growing too. Affluent parents have increased the amount they spend on their kids enrichment activities by $5300 a year, whereas the financially stressed have only increased the amount they spend per year to $480.

Data taken in 1972 shows that kids from the bottom quartile of earners participated in about the same number of activities as the kids from the top quartile.  The facts today are starkly different.  Rich kids are now involved in twice as many activities as poorer kids, and twice as likely to excel in those activities.

This growing chasm among the classes is also causing the less fortunate children to become more pessimistic and detached. One researcher noted that “It’s perfectly understandable that kids from working-class backgrounds have become cynical and even paranoid, for virtually all our major social institutions have failed them — family, friends, church, school and community.” These kids are less likely to participate in voluntary service work that could provide them with a sense of purpose, they do worse in school, and their opportunities are limited.

A long series of cultural, economic and social trends have merged to create this sad state of affairs. Traditional social norms were abandoned, meaning more children are born out of wedlock. Their single parents simply have less time and resources to prepare them for a more competitive world. Working-class jobs were decimated, meaning that many parents are too stressed to have the energy, time or money to devote to their children. 

Affluent, intelligent people are now more likely to marry other energetic, intelligent people. They raise energetic, intelligent kids in self-segregated, cultural ghettoes where they know little about and have less influence upon people who do not share their blessings. 

The political system directs more money to health care for the elderly while spending on child welfare slides.
Equal opportunity, once core to the nation’s identity, is now a tertiary concern. America's leaders need to change this, and take advantage of all of the human capital in our country rather than the most privileged two-thirds of it. Let's focus on bringing back working class jobs so that our kids will have a bright future.

Click here to read the full article by David Brooks from NYTimes.com

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