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Nadworny: The Class Gap

09/10/12 7:55AM By Rich Nadworny
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(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.

(Nadworny) Recently, 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 mobility.

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.

In the 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.

The 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.
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