One rich, one poor

Read in ‘Our kids’ (2015) of Robert Putnam:



Robert Putnam’s latest book is on American kids, their lives, their future. The social landscape in the land of opportunity is changing rapidly, that’s for sure. The sociologist teaching at Harvard University compares it with his own youth in hometown Port Clinton, Ohio, in the fifties. In half a century time it got a lot worse in terms of social mobility. He thinks it is now “a split-screen American nightmare, a community in which kids from the wrong side of the tracks that bisect the town can barely imagine the future that awaits the kids from the right side of the tracks.”  The chapters are on families, parenting, schooling, community. The chapter on families is situated in Bend, Oregon; the one on parenting in Atlanta; the one on schooling in Orange County, California; the last one, on community, in Philadelphia. Then he focuses on what is to be done. Let’s study Atlanta.

Putnam describes Atlanta as an affluent, sophisticated, and global metropolitan area, the ninth largest in the USA. The city has a strong, diversified economy, with headquarters of CNN, Delta Airlines, UPS and Coke. Its history is one of racial division. In black residents, Atlanta is second to New York City. The city is being confronted now with a rapidly growing gap between rich and poor. Over the last ten years some half million new black residents entered the city. They all came from the North. Many of them have college degrees.  But Putnam adds that the blacks in Atlanta itself are desperately poor. “Large swaths of southern and western Atlanta itself are over 95 percent black, with child poverty rates ranging from 50 percent to 80 percent.” So the black community is segregated along economic lines. He concludes that Greater Atlanta has the second-lowest rate of intergenerational social mobility of all major American cities – a great contrast with his own youth in Port Clinton, where poor kids and rich kids lived near one another. Wealth is accumulating in Atlanta, but many kids have no opportunities to do better. He thinks America is moving towards two countries: one rich, one poor.



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