Class warfare: The biggest news of the last half-century, says Harvard professor

The Yard (Fall/Winter 2007)  “Many social scientists believe this sudden rebirth of economic inequality is the biggest news of the last half-century,” Robert Putnam notes in a recent Harvard faculty roundtable discussion.

“That fact has not been fully understood,” he continues, “… because too often in our public discourse in America class is taken as code for talking about race. In fact, class isn’t race…. The numbers on racial segregation are actually moving in the right direction, but on class segregation, the numbers are moving in the wrong direction. Interracial marriages are increasing, but inter-class marriages are decreasing.”

“Work we’re doing now shows that, among white high school seniors, there’s a growing class gap…. White working-class kids go to church a lot less than working-class kids used to; they are less involved in community activities; and their parents spend less time with them, partly because, unlike middle-class kids, they are likely to have only one parent in the home. They have lower self-esteem than working-class kids used to, less social trust, and lower academic aspirations.

“…[T]he fundamental bargain, the core of America, has always been that we can live with big gaps between rich and poor as long as there is also equality of opportunity. If that is no longer true, then the core bargain is being violated.”

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