Tag Archives: American Dream

Robert Putnam's new book: OUR KIDS, The American Dream in Crisis

I haven’t read it. I have read a lot of reviews and a book sample on my iPhone. Just a couple of things to say now (Part One), and I’ll have more to say later (Parts Two and Three), because he is writing about something that is close to all of us, and it should be written and talked about, whether the American Dream is still alive and well. According to Robert Putnam it’s not.

It is for this reason that the book is important, and why it needs a close look. The reviewers of probably every major English language publication are reading it, and for the most part their reviews, not all, are favorable. His subject is not so much OUR KIDS as what he, and many others, including Thomas Piketty (author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century) see as the growing inequality in the country and what this is doing to the lives and chances of more and more of the (our) kids.

In the excerpt that follows lifted from my sample text, coming near the end of his first chapter, THE AMERICAN DREAM: MYTHS AND REALITIES, the author tells us why he wrote the book:

So, gender and racial biases remain powerful, but as barriers to success they would represent less burdensome obstacles for Libby, Jesse, and Cheryl (classmates of the author at PCHS in Port Clinton, Ohio) today than they did in the 1950s. By contrast, in modern America one barrier would loom much larger than it did back then: their class origins. That nationwide increase in class inequality— how the class-based opportunity gap among young people has widened in recent decades— is the subject of this book.

Then throughout the book he marshals his evidence for the inequality. Most of all in the life stories he tells of the kids,”then and now,” and by his graphs, particularly striking among these being his “scissors graphs” of which I give a few examples here:


So what is “Our Kids” all about? Putnam sees in Port Clinton, Ohio, where he grew up, but throughout all of America, a rising inequality of means. He sees a  few people with great means to do whatever they want, with a lot more opportunities than ever before. And he sees a lot of people having a lot less than these few. In addition he identifies a substantial drop in the numbers of people, the so-called middle classes, in between.

Those at the bottom do not and cannot provide for their children in the manner of those at the top. America, that at its founding would have been a land without the class structure of the old world, is now becoming in turn a land of upper and lower classes. This I assume is what Putnam means by the American Dream in Crisis.

Part Two will follow.