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Our Kids

The American Dream in Crisis

By Robert D. Putnam
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Our Kids by Robert D. Putnam

Our Kids (2015) takes a look at the crisis of opportunity in America, where success depends more on wealth than on hard work and ability. The American dream has been betrayed, the U.S. opportunity gap is widening; this book will tell you why, and explain what every U.S. citizen can do to fix the problem, ensure equality and save democracy.

Key idea 1 of 9

The promises of the American dream are slipping ever further out of reach.

We’ve all heard the phrase “from rags to riches,” a slogan that sums up the American dream. Believing that anyone can pull himself up by his bootstraps and, with nothing but perseverance and some natural ability, achieve economic success, has been in the mainstream for some time. But how realistic is it today?

Well, popular opinion about this dream has remained more or less stable, and practically all Americans agree that everyone should be afforded equal opportunities. That’s because few things represent the popular view of U.S. society as well as the American dream.

For instance, studies have shown that 95 percent of Americans agree with the idea that society should ensure every citizen the right to equal chances for economic success, regardless of their parents’ affluence.

However, while Americans still support the idea of the dream, the reality is that access to opportunity across social classes is grossly disproportionate. That’s because the overall economic prosperity of the ‘50’s and ‘60’s provided an unprecedented and since-unattained level of equal opportunity.

Just consider Port Clinton, where the author grew up, a city that well represents the rest of the country economically, socially and demographically. In 1959, people living there enjoyed a lot of upward mobility. That meant, regardless of their class, the majority of the kid’s the author went to school with went on to pursue higher education and realized greater affluence than their parents.

But Port Clinton has changed. Social classes are now separated by an economic divide, and children from different neighborhoods are afforded drastically different career opportunities. In fact, the same thing is happening across the country. For instance, in 2004, children whose parents were in the top 25 percent of wealthiest and most-educated people were 17 times more likely to go to an elite university than children whose families fell nearer the bottom quarter.

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