Commentary: Some bipartisan ideas for success

The Kansas City StarNovember 17, 2012 


Lewis Diuguid is a columnist for the Kansas City Star.

MBR — MCT/Kansas City Star

The have-and-have-not divide in the U.S. will only increase unless citizens and government heed recommendations of a report and work together.

“Pathways to the Middle Class: Balancing Personal and Public Responsibilities” blends conservative ideals of personal responsibility and liberal solutions of government programs to try to ensure that more people achieve middle class status by middle age. But the U.S. is far from that, research from the Social Genome Project at Brookings shows.

The report says children from poor and minority families are less likely to be ready for school at age five than kids from better-off white families. Poor kids are more inclined to underperform in core academic and social competencies at the end of elementary school.

They are less likely to graduate from high school with decent grades and more drawn to crime and teen pregnancy. They’re less likely to graduate from college or to make a good income in their 20s.

“Racial gaps are large from the start and never narrow significantly, especially for African-Americans,” the report said. It cites six stages of development and notes that it is essential that kids achieve in each to increase the likelihood that they’ll reach the American dream by middle age.

The stages are:

• Being born to parents who are intellectually, emotionally and financially prepared to raise a child.

• Preparing the child through preschool and other programs to be ready to enter school by age five.

• Making sure the child does well in core studies and social skills by age 11.

• Getting the child college- or career-ready by age 19.

• Transitioning to adulthood means living independently and either receiving a college degree or having a good income of $45,000 for a married couple with a child by age 29.

• Achieving middle class by age 40 means earning at least $68,000 for a married couple with two children.

Racism, sexism and socio-economic divides confound the climb. Girls outdo boys in school, earning 57 percent of all college degrees. “Despite their educational advantages, once they are adults, women still earn less than men,” the report says.

Black and Latino children fall behind whites in being ready for school.

“By adolescence both African-Americans and Hispanics are far behind white children,” the report said. “By age 40, a whopping 33 percentage points difference between blacks and whites exists. Only a third of African-Americans have achieved middle class status by middle age. Even amongst those who do reach the middle class their children are much more likely to fall down the ladder than the children of white middle class families.”

The report follows children born mostly in the 1980s and 1990s. It notes that success is cumulative, but kids born in economically and educationally advantaged families “retain a large advantage.” It says “success begets later success” so that “those who succeed in the previous stage are much more likely than those who did not to succeed again.”

The U.S. must fix the disparities to ensure that we don’t have a “society permanently divided along class lines.” Change involves conservatives and liberals working together.

To the conservatives’ point, the trend of more than half of all births to women under 30 occurring outside of wedlock must end. Children have a better chance in stable, two-parent homes, the report says.

To the liberals’ point, early childhood programs are essential. They prepare children for the rigors of school. In a blend of conservative and liberal notions, the report pushes more teacher training, curricular testing and school choice such as charters and vouchers.

It calls for more interventions from caring adults and government programs to ensure that kids will be more socially aware, responsible, disciplined self-starters. Going to college and finishing are vital.

Conservatives and liberals must blend their ideals to ensure the American dream remains possible for future generations.

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