CULTURE BITS: The road to the Middle Class

The Brookings Institution released a study this week reporting that by midlife two in three Americans successfully achieve a middle-class lifestyle.  In addition to the stuff that fascinates policy wonks, the “Pathways to the Middle Class” report has plenty of relevant information for anyone concerned about the health of the American Dream:

~Although 61 percent of Americans reach the middle class by middle age, there are large gaps by race, gender, and children’s circumstances at birth.

~Success begets further success. Children who are successful at each life stage from early childhood to young adulthood are much more likely to achieve the American Dream.

~Children from less advantaged families tend to fall behind at every stage.

~Racial gaps are large from the start and never narrow significantly, especially for African Americans.

~Girls travel through childhood doing better than boys only to find their prospects diminished during the adult years.

~For the small proportion of disadvantaged children who do succeed throughout school and early adulthood (17%), their chances of being middle class by middle age are almost as great as for their more advantaged peers (75% vs 83%).

~Keeping less advantaged children on track at each and every life stage is the right strategy for building a stronger middle class. Early interventions may prevent the need for later ones.

~It’s never too late to intervene —people who succeed in their twenties, despite earlier struggles, still have a good chance of making it to the middle class.

For those at the bottom of the economic ladder, Brookings recommends a combination of societal interventions along with encouraging greater personal responsibility, a measured approach that takes into account the need to “discriminate between more and less effective programs.”  High-quality preschools and high-school retention efforts are singled out as particularly effective.

The research team acknowledges the role culture plays in determining lifetime success. “Too little attention has been given to ensuring that more children are born to parents who are ready to raise a child,” the report says.  “Unplanned pregnancies, abortions, and unwed births are way too high and childbearing within marriage is no longer the norm for women in their twenties, except among the college-educated. Government has a role, but culture is at least as important.”

For the complete study, please visit: “Pathways to the Middle Class”

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