The American Dream in Crisis: It’s Time for a New Moynihan Moment

Here is Ben Peterson writing at Public Discourse:

The American Dream is in crisis because the American family is in crisis. We must commit to a national—not purely governmental—effort to promote strong families.

The American Dream is about equality of opportunity. It includes the belief that a person can rise from any station in life to success and the idea that artificial barriers tied to race, class, or gender need not—must not—stand in the way of climbing the commercial, social, or political ladder. Yet today, despite massive federal investments in a national public education system, social security, welfare, and expanded public health insurance, a class line paralleling W.E.B. Du Bois’s “color line” is solidifying.

The new class line is the theme of esteemed political scientist Robert D. Putnam’s latest bestseller, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. Putnam’s book struck a nerve because it puts the crisis of the American dream into focus:a majority of Americans see economic mobility as a possibility only for the already wealthy, and Republicans and Democrats alike recognize the serious problem of income inequality. Putnam spoke at two high-profile conferences this year, one at Georgetown University with President Obama and Arthur Brooks, and another at the American Enterprise Institute, where Brooks is president.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan sought to address a similar crisis. In his controversial report for the U.S. Department of Labor, “The Negro Family: The Case For National Action,” he raised concerns about “deterioration of the Negro family” in poor, black communities. After a long saga of denial and allegations of “blaming the victim,” sociologists and policy analysts increasingly recognize the merit of his warning that family breakdown resulting from the legacy of slavery would prevent many black communities from securing equal opportunities and taking advantage of political gains from the Civil Rights Movement. As William Julius Wilson and Orlando Patterson have observed, the problem has intensified in poor, black communities. Wilson called the report “prophetic” in its analysis of both structural and cultural factors threatening to perpetuate cycles of poverty.

Read more: Public Discourse