Book Review: Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis


I’m just about to the end of Robert Putnam’s Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. It’s yet another book about inequality in America, but a valuable contribution nonetheless.

In a very readable fashion, Putnam explains why inequality of wealth and income in America today translates into inequality of opportunity.

It’s not the first book I’ve read on this subject. Chris Hayes’ Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy covers the same territory. But the books complement one another. Hayes shows that America’s meritocracy has led to a dramatic reduction in social mobility. Putnam gets into that a little, but his focus is more on why that is the case. If you’re inclined to read both books, read Hayes first. It will set Putnam up for you.

I think most of us with any sense of awareness have understood that the playing field is not level for America’s kids. But, as Putnam explains, there is far more to it than meets the eye. There really are countless ways in which the deck is stacked against a child who is not fortunate enough to be born rich.

One warning. Most of us have been confronted with the “distinction” between inequality of opportunity and inequality of outcome. We hear it from almost all conservatives, but from many who consider themselves progressive as well. After reading Putnam, you may find yourself with a good bit less patience for these folks.