(Host) An expert on new media and digital marketing, commentator Rich
Nadworny thinks that we can talk about innovation all we like. But if we
don’t pay attention to the growing class gap, we may be leaving a large
part of our population permanently behind.
noted author and Harvard professor Robert Putnam issued a warning at the
Aspen Ideas Festival. America, he says, is approaching an impending
cliff on social mobility. Unlike previous eras, where race was the
determining factor in social mobility, this time Putnam says, class is
the problem. When it comes to affluence and social mobility, over the
last twenty years the racial gap has been cut in half, while the class
gap has doubled.
Putnam’s studies show that there’s a new wave
of kids born to white, high-school educated, unmarried mothers, coming
of age. These single moms are at a disadvantage from married, more
affluent women when it comes to encouraging their children to achieve in
school, play sports, or be more connected to the community. All this
puts the kids at a huge disadvantage when it comes to work and social
It’s a sobering picture of our country and the American
Dream. And, of course, it’s spawned a strong debate, between those who
moralize about the evils of children born outside of wedlock and those
focusing on providing programs to help the people most at risk. And when
it comes to moralizing about social issues versus practical
initiatives, I’ll take practical any day.
Other countries have
addressed these issues in interesting and effective ways. After World
War II, with so many men having been killed and so many women entering
the workforce, a defeated Italy had to rebuild itself.
city of Reggio Emilia, townspeople were faced with the issue of how to
raise their children given that the moms were away from home so much. So
they went about developing entirely new programs, including an early
childcare education system built around a self-guided curriculum for
kids, that’s based on the kids’ interests, not the adults.
system was and is so successful, that even today there’s an annual
pilgrimage to Reggio Emilia by many educators, including Vermont
pre-school personnel to see how we in Vermont might adapt some of those
65-year-old principles to fit our needs here.
In Sweden, the
decline in marriage, increase in working women and the rise in the
number of births to non-married parents led to initiatives such as
common law legislation that gives unmarried parents of children who live
together most of the same rights as married couples. And Sweden
continues to push for men and women to take paid parental leave so they
can spend important personal childrearing time with their kids. By the
way, the Scandinavian countries consistently rank higher than the U.S.
when it comes to social mobility
Putnam is right: we face a
critical problem in our country. It’s discouraging that we’ve been
talking about universal early childcare in Vermont for more than a
decade now and it’s still not a reality. When it comes to the American
dream, talk is cheap – and it won’t help the problem get better.