Friday, March 24, 2017

Me and my folks - A review of Robert Putnam's "Our Kids"

The Millennial generation reflects a new reality 
by Tarah Hodgkinson

There has been much commentary lately about the Millennial generation. They don’t work hard enough, they expect everything to be handed to them and they are apathetic.

However, a recent book by Robert Putnam (author of Bowling Alone) claims that much of the millennial struggle is not a product of a poor work ethic or inaction. Rather, the structure of North American society has changed to make it so that working class kids are struggling far more to achieve any success compared to counterparts in their parents’ generation.

We reviewed the Millennial generation five years ago in Peter Pan Kids and this latest offering by Putnam provides another look.

Putnam begins his analysis with an examination of why kids from his hometown of Port Clinton, who grew up in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, were generally successful despite class, racial and gender barriers while kids in Port Clinton today appear more financially segregated than ever before. He says there are several factors: the American Dream, families, parenting, schooling and the community.

Putnam brings to life the changing demographics of American society by combining current research with the stories of privileged and underprivileged kids and their families. He demonstrates that the Baby Boomer generation was successful in part because their era was relatively favorable towards upward mobility.

BOOMER VERSUS MILLENNIAL ADVANTAGES

Contrary to the notion that many Boomers are self-made success stories, Putnam argues they benefited from excellent funding for school programming, neighbourhoods diversified in both race and class, and strong social capital networks that created a sense of responsibility for each other’s kids.

By contrast, he claims that today there is a concentration of disadvantage, particularly for poor kids, caused by removing funding from childhood educational programs, financial (not just racial) segregation, and the loss of community and community responsibility for youth.

Fewer paths available for Millennials compared to Boomers
This is not only a sad story about the most disadvantaged youth in America today. Rather the opportunity gap imposes on all of us real costs or what economists term opportunity costs. Putnam demonstrates that the annual cost of child poverty in the US economy is about $500 billion per year (4% of the GDP).

Ignoring this opportunity gap costs a substantial amount of money and it also impacts politics. Kids from richer families are more confident that they can influence government; poor kids, with few incentives and few success stories, are less likely to even try. This means that the needs of marginalized groups are not being addressed.

WHAT CAN WE DO? 

The response will not be quick or easy. It took a long time for the structures that supported Boomers to fall apart and it will take even longer to repair. One stepping stone we need is supportive institutions, both public and private, to better address the economic disparities that poorer youth face.

That’s where SafeGrowth emerges. Community development, local rebuilding and cohesive, networked neighborhoods can assist in addressing these disparities at the neighborhood level.

Millennials, sometimes called the Peter Pan generation,
may offer more, not less, for future SafeGrowth programming

The SafeGrowth method helps to recreate social cohesion that can address many of the missing public resources. It brings neighbors together to demand more for their community, to work to create a better community, and to help introduce at-risk youth to people who can help guide them and give them opportunities they may not otherwise obtain.

SafeGrowth neighborhoods create an action plan. That plan contains a neighborhood vision that embraces all levels of diversity, breaks down class segregation, and gives all kids a chance at contributing and participating in community life.

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