Americans have always believed in equality of opportunity: the idea that all children, regardless of their family background, should have a decent chance to improve their lives. Dr. Robert Putnam argues that this central aspect of the American dream is being threatened and may no longer be attainable. In the last twenty-five years, we have seen a disturbing “opportunity gap” emerge. Factors such as two parent homes, good test scores, physical health, and school quality predict our kids’ success in life, and we can no longer take these for granted. Putnam, using a formidable body of research, relates stories of young people across the economic divide, from cities and suburbs, who face a less promising future than did their parents.
This problem poses serious economic, social, political and moral challenges. What is to be done about this crisis? Putnam suggests changes that are both bottom-up and top-down. The rising inequality gap in America will be the major issue leading up to the next election. Putnam argues that our civic leaders will need to reach across boundaries of party and ideology if we are to offer more opportunity to all American children.
Robert D. Putnam is the Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University. He has consulted for the last three American presidents, and has written fourteen books, including Bowling Alone and Making Democracy Work. His latest book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, on the growing class gap among American young people, was published in March 2015.