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.
This blog reviewed the Millennial generation five years ago in Peter Pan Kids and this latest offering 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 such as the American Dream, families, parenting, schooling and the community.
Putnam brings to life the changing demographics of American society by combining the stories of privileged and underprivileged kids and their families with current research. He demonstrates that the Baby Boomer generation was successful in part because the era of their youth was relatively favourable towards upward mobility.
BOOMER VERSUS MILLENNIAL ADVANTAGES
Contrary to the notion that many Boomers are self-made success stories, Putnam argues that youth in this generation 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.
This is not just 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 costs of child poverty in the US economy is about 500 billion dollars per year (4% of the GDP).
This costs a substantial amount of money to not address this opportunity gap and it 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. But one stepping stone we need is supportive institutions, both public and private, to better address the economic disparities our poor youth are facing.
That’s where SafeGrowth emerges. Community development, local rebuilding and cohesive, networked neighbourhoods can assist in addressing these disparities at the neighbourhood level.
The SafeGrowth method helps to recreate social cohesion that can address many of the missing public resources. It brings neighbours 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 neighbourhoods create an action plan. That plan contains a neighbourhood vision that embraces all levels of diversity, breaks down class segregation, and gives all kids a chance at contributing and participating in community life.