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by Mary Soderstrom

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Friday, 5 September 2014

The Real Intergenerational Inequity Is Not Public Debt But Lack of Public Support

Are the guys in power in Canada and the US listening to voice of economic reason? The answer is "No!" of course. 

As Paul Krugman charges again today, austerity measures and fear of inflation have led Europe into economic times worse than the 1930s.  He says it is in the "grip of a deflationary vortex." He adds that finally, thankfully, the European Central Bank has finally realized that, and  just announced measures to boost Europe's economy.

What he doesn't say is what is perfectly clear to anyone who has looked at the toll bad times and budget cuts takes from the next generation.  Around here, much is being said about saddling our children and grandchildren with debt: intergenerational equity has become a catch phrase.  But the real problem will come when children don't have the schools, health care, libraries, social services and healthy towns and cities they require to grow up educted and strong.

Significantly, this week The Washington  Post has a telling story about the Baltimore Beginning School study. In a report called The Long Shadow, researchers recount what they found following a randomly chosen group of kids who entered first grade in 1982.  They were followed for 25 years with results that reinforce doubts about how egalitarian American society is, and just how much poverty influences what happens to kids.

The Post say : "Some of them — children largely from the middle-class and blue-collar white families still in Baltimore’s public school system in 1982 — grew up to managerial jobs and marriages and their own stable homes. But where success occurred, it was often passed down, through family resources or networks simply out of reach of most of the disadvantaged."

It goes on:  "We like to think that education is an equalizer — that through it, children may receive the tools to become entrepreneurs when their parents were unemployed, lawyers when their single moms had 10th-grade educations. But (researchers) Alexander and Entwisle kept coming back to one data point: the 4 percent of disadvantaged children who earned college degrees by age 28.

"“We hold that out to them as what they should work toward,” Alexander says. Yet in their data, education did not appear to provide a dependable path to stable jobs and good incomes for the worst off.

"The story is different for children from upper-income families, who supplement classroom learning with homework help, museum trips and college expectations. Alexander and Entwisle found one exception: Low-income white boys attained some of the lowest levels of education. But they earned the highest incomes among the urban disadvantaged.

"They were able, Alexander and Entwisle realized, to tap into what remains of the good blue-collar jobs in Baltimore. These are the skilled crafts, the union gigs, jobs in trades traditionally passed from one generation to the next and historically withheld from blacks. These children did not inherit college expectations. But they inherited job networks. And these are the two paths to success in the Beginning School Study."

Take home lesson?  That schools need formidable resources to counter the effects of families' economic difficulties, which are becoming much more acute in these bad times when government budgets are cut in the name of "short term pain for long term gain."

And that the slogan "Solidarity Forever" with all that implies for unions and collective action has made an enormous difference in the lives of ordinary North Americans. 

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