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Creating an Opportunity Society

Creating an Opportunity Society

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 347
  • Book Info
    Creating an Opportunity Society
    Book Description:

    Americans believe economic opportunity is as fundamental a right as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. More concerned about a level playing field for all, they worry less about the growing income and wealth disparity in our country.Creating an Opportunity Societyexamines economic opportunity in the United States and explores how to create more of it, particularly for those on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder.

    Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill propose a concrete agenda for increasing opportunity that is cost effective, consistent with American values, and focuses on improving the lives of the young and the disadvantaged. They emphasize individual responsibility as an indispensable basis for successful policies and programs.

    The authors recommend a three-pronged approach to create more opportunity in America:

    • Increase education for children and youth at the preschool, K-12, and postsecondary levels

    • Encourage and support work among adults

    • Reduce the number of out-of-wedlock births while increasing the share of children reared by their married parents

    With concern for the federal deficit in mind, Haskins and Sawhill argue for reallocating existing resources, especially from the affluent elderly to disadvantaged children and their families. The authors are optimistic that a judicious use of the nation's resources can level the playing field and produce more opportunity for all.

    Creating an Opportunity Societyoffers the most complete summary available of the facts and the factors that contribute to economic opportunity. It looks at the poor, the middle class, and the rich, providing deep background data on how each group has fared in recent decades. Unfortunately, only the rich have made substantial progress, making this book a timely guide forward for anyone interested in what we can do as a society to improve the prospects for our less-advantaged families and fellow citizens.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-0393-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Economics

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Strobe Talbott

    Think tanks make their mark by applying reason and evidence to the choices facing policymakers. At Brookings, we summarize that mission in three words: quality, independence, impact. This book, written by Ron Haskins and Belle Sawhill—two colleagues with extensive experience in government and the NGO world—is an example of how the think-tank formula for producing usable knowledge can lead to imaginative, pragmatic public policy proposals.

    For those of us who are not experts in social policy, it often seems that government programs designed to fight poverty and increase economic opportunity have enjoyed little success. This impression seemed to...

  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill
  5. one Our Vision
    (pp. 1-18)

    No ancient king could have imagined the comforts and conveniences provided by houses, cars, computers, clothes, packaged foods, and various other amenities enjoyed by most Americans. As this book went to press, the economy was in a deep recession and could remain there for several years, but such temporary troubles should not detract from the fact that America is a very wealthy nation. If personal after-tax income in 2008 were divided equally among the population, every adult and child would have about $35,000 in goods and services each year—that’s $140,000 for a family of four.¹ But the American economy...

  6. two Public Values and Attitudes
    (pp. 19-31)

    If America is going to address issues of poverty, inequality, and opportunity, policymakers need to understand the values and attitudes that underlie any set of chosen policies. In particular, if policies to fight poverty and promote opportunity are to be enacted and successfully maintained, they need to be consistent with the values of the American public. This chapter addresses the extent to which compassion is a universal sentiment, philosophical debates about what society’s more advantaged members owe to its less-advantaged members, and the actual opinions of the public in the United States.

    Drawing on this discussion, we come to five...

  7. three The Changing Fortunes of the Rich, the Poor, and the Middle Class
    (pp. 32-59)

    In 1980 President Ronald Reagan famously asked, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”¹ In a similar vein, in this chapter we ask, Who moved ahead and who lagged behind over the past three or four decades? Our answer, in brief, is that real incomes have grown but that income inequality—gaps between the rich and the poor—have also risen.²

    We give special attention to the poor, for whom progress has been spotty at best. The War on Poverty, launched by President Lyndon Johnson in the mid-1960s, does not seem to have succeeded if the goal...

  8. four Opportunity in the United States
    (pp. 60-73)

    In chapter 3 we show that incomes have become increasingly unequal in recent decades and that poverty has been persistent.¹ These facts are disturbing to most people and would seem to call for greater efforts to distribute government assistance more broadly and provide a more robust safety net for the poor. In later chapters we propose some policies that would do just that. But we also want to argue, along the lines of an earlier volume authored by Daniel McMurrer and Isabel Sawhill, that focusing on income inequality and poverty provides a narrow and to some extent misleading picture. As...

  9. five Why Family Background Matters
    (pp. 74-84)

    Family background plays a significant role in who gets ahead and who falls behind from one generation to the next. In addition, a number of good studies find that childhood poverty, especially persistent poverty during early childhood, is associated with worse outcomes for children.¹ Children who grow up in poor families do less well in school, are more likely to engage in risky behaviors as adolescents, and have lower earnings and incomes when they become adults.² In short, although many people escape from the poverty they experienced while growing up, many do not; and even those who do escape face...

  10. six Perspectives on Poverty
    (pp. 85-105)

    Debates about what the rest of society owes the less fortunate are often based on underlying assumptions about why people are rich or poor, successful or unsuccessful. This chapter examines that debate. As chapter 2 notes, the public is divided in ranking personal effort or outside circumstances as the bigger cause of poverty.¹

    Expert and political opinion on the issue is also equally divided. To many liberals it seems obvious that a large part of the problem is societal, that the very structure of a market economy, which offers low wages and uncertain job prospects for the least skilled, makes...

  11. seven Middle-Class Complaints
    (pp. 106-124)

    It is no coincidence that President Lyndon B. Johnson declared the War on Poverty during the 1960s, a period when most Americans were doing well and when almost everyone, rich or poor, had benefited from the rapid economic growth following World War II. The relative affluence of the United States compared to other advanced countries, many of which had been devastated by the war, was at a peak. U.S. workers—many of them working in well-paid, union jobs in the manufacturing sector with few rivals in the rest of the world—were achieving the American Dream for themselves and their...

  12. eight Expanding Educational Opportunity
    (pp. 125-166)

    Underlying the nation’s problem with economic opportunity is the nation’s problem with educational opportunity. We believe that the impressive array of programs and research now under way will boost education among the disadvantaged and that more can be done to increase educational opportunity and achievement in America. After providing a brief history of educational attainment and reviewing evidence that establishes the importance of education in promoting opportunity, we develop a set of policy proposals directed at, respectively, preschool, K–12, and postsecondary education. We also hold the view that, despite the reforms we recommend, millions of adolescents will not go...

  13. nine Supporting and Encouraging Work
    (pp. 167-202)

    A major intellectual and political development in social policy over the past quarter century has been widespread agreement among politicians, scholars, and the public that the best antipoverty program is a job and that government policy should do everything possible to encourage poor people to work. Reducing poverty and increasing mobility requires that all who can must work and earn most of their income.

    Before Congress enacted and President Bill Clinton signed the welfare reform law of 1996, many people in the political and scholarly worlds believed that the first obligation of government was to ensure some basic level of...

  14. ten Strengthening Families
    (pp. 203-231)

    The traditional American family of married parents and their children is in decline. Nearly every trend that could work against the traditional family is going in that direction. Marriage rates are down, divorce rates are high, cohabitation rates are exploding, and nonmarital birth rates are rising. Nearly all of these trends started in the 1950s and picked up steam in the 1960s and 1970s. Most of them have slowed down or stabilized, but in every case they are at or near their historic highs or lows. The result is that the majority of American children will spend some time in...

  15. eleven Paying the Bills
    (pp. 232-248)

    Let’s pretend we’re a family sitting around the kitchen table discussing the condition of our budget. Recently we wanted to take a well-deserved vacation and make some repairs on our house. The total cost was more than we could afford based on our income, so we did what millions of other Americans do and simply put the costs on our credit card. Now we have a chance to buy into some very promising investments—all but certain to generate a reasonable return at some point in the future—but we don’t have the cash to pay for the investments. We...

  16. Appendix A Grants, Loans, and Tax Provisions for Postsecondary Students
    (pp. 249-256)
  17. Appendix B The Bush Marriage Initiative
    (pp. 257-262)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 263-336)
  19. Index
    (pp. 337-348)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 349-350)