I never expected that my husband and I would be weighing the benefits of public vs. private school when our son was only 6 months old, but that was our reality. I never thought I would see a future where the amount of money we spend on sports activities for our kids is equal to our family’s grocery budget, but the research in “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis” shows that this is where we’re headed.
Robert Putnam shares stories and research that highlight the challenge parents are facing around the nation: the possibility that their children won’t have a better life than they did. The essence of the American Dream is that all children can have equal opportunities for success, if they only work hard and remain focused. But how can they all have an equal opportunity if there’s not an equal start at the beginning of life?
This question was the highlight of YNPN’s Quarterly Book Discussion in July. Attendees shared their perspective through their own professional lenses. While some considered the impact of the data on the current generation of youth, others shared their concern for adults that have already lost sight of the “American Dream” due to struggles in overcoming childhood trauma or making the decision to forego a small raise at work because of a greater loss in benefits, (childcare assistance, tax credits, health care coverage). Some families can afford to take the loss if they are lucky enough to have parents who can help fill in the gaps for medical bills or assist with childcare, while others are stuck in a continuous cycle of poverty with no extended family to rely on.
Putnam shares parallels between the challenges for today’s children and the life he had growing up in Port Clinton, Ohio. He notes that 75 % of his fellow graduates went on to attain a higher level of education and greater economic security than their parents had achieved. Because of socio-economic trends that range from the decline of manufacturing to residential moves to suburbs, that is not true of more-recent graduating classes. Families of varying socioeconomic status lived side by side in 1950, whereas today’s poorer families are segregated from upper class families with gated communities and home association fees.
During our discussion, several attendees noted Putnam’s lack of emphasis on the correlation of race and upward mobility. Rather he emphasized the growing disparities between socioeconomic classes as being the largest barrier for upward mobility for all races. He cites the collapse of the working-class family that started to affect African-Americans in the 1960s, also began to affect white Americans in the 1980s and 1990s. This sparked our group’s conversation to turn towards discussing barriers in Central Iowa for upward mobility and what we can do about it as both non-profit professionals and invested community members. Here are some of our ideas:
- Check out Connections Matter and share their mission not only within your agency, but within your community. The materials were developed by a stellar team of professionals from the Central Iowa ACE’s 360 Committee, Trauma Informed Care Project, and the Developing Brain Group. It’s also coordinated by Amanda the Panda and Prevent Child Abuse Iowa (Shout-out to our fabulous YNPN Member Sara Welch for being a part of this awesome effort!)
- Increase the discussion around barriers for minorities to achieve upward mobility. Des Moines may be #1 for Young Professionals, but did you also know that in 2014 Iowa ranked dead last for the number of minority-owned businesses
- Diversity is not exclusive to skin color. More value needs to be placed on employees and clients who hold different religious beliefs, cultural values, and live with their own mental/physical disabilities.
- Advocate for better policies on maternity/paternity leave. If employees and their families are well cared for, the people we serve will be well cared for.
Pregnancy and Adoption Coordinator
Catholic Charities Des Moines