Posts Tagged ‘children’


Special mention

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Stephanie Coontz has been working for a long time to shatter the myth that the traditional family was accurately portrayed in Leave it to Beaver.

Even for the short time such nuclear families reached their peak, as Mia Birdsong and Nicole Rodgers [ht: ja] explain, only 65 percent of American children were living in this type of “traditional” nuclear family unit (with a father employed and mother out of the labor force). Today, it’s just 22 percent.

There has been an explosion in the diversity of family structures in the U.S. over the last several decades, much of it the result of delayed and declining marriage rates and higher nonmarital birthrates. Forty-one percent of babies born in the U.S. today have parents who are not married, and among millennials, it’s over half.

The traditional family, which dominated for just over a decade, wasn’t replaced by one kind of family, but by many kinds of families. Unlike in the early ’60s, today, there is no single-family arrangement that encompasses the majority of children. More individuals live alone, there are more families with married parents who are both employed, more single-parent homes, children living with grandparents, children living with unmarried, cohabitating parents, and households composed of people who are not biologically related or legally bound. Family diversity is the new normal.

The problem, of course, is both liberals and conservatives retain a nostalgia for the Leave it to Beaver nuclear household, and overlook the many ways (from tax breaks to employment policies) that supposed norm is reinforced.

Even progressives often tacitly accept the logic that marriage and “keeping families together” is the best way to support the wellbeing of adults and children. But just beneath the surface, this is the same underlying “good old days” nostalgia used by conservatives. It’s the same logic that says that working women going to back into the home is a legitimate solution to the inaccessibly of affordable childcare.

The Left, for its part, has done a very poor job over the years of imagining alternative forms of householding, much less of supporting public policies that might support and enhance “family diversity.”

The evolution of family we are experiencing is a complex, sometimes confusing, but also beautiful thing. It means that despite all the policies, practices and social pressures supporting the nuclear family, people are continuing to create family in a variety of ways. It’s not always intentional, or without struggle and challenge, but it requires a creative spirit to navigate and bypass the myriad structures and institutions that get in one’s way. We have so much to learn from the wisdom and resourcefulness of those whose families have too long been thought of as broken, when really, they are sewn together by ingenuity and love against all kinds of odds.

That’s not to say all the forms of householding we’re seeing today are beautiful. They’re not. People still struggle to assemble various kinds of households, to raise children, and to get ahead in life. And some of the results are pretty ugly—with, as we know, many forms of spousal abuse and child neglect, inadequate opportunities, and a shredded or nonexistent safety net when it comes to helping both parents and children.

So, yes, people have long been pretty creative in terms of how they manage the task of setting up one or another kind of family householding—before and after Leave it to Beaver. And we can help them become even more creative, by relinquishing the nostalgia for the single household that never was and imagining and supporting the diversity of alternative households that can be.

In the name of science

Posted: 5 October 2015 in Uncategorized
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There’s no doubt Kimberly G. Noble and her team of neuroscientists are genuinely concerned about the effects of poverty on children’s brains—and not for nefarious purposes.

Not surprisingly, our findings made many people uncomfortable. Some feared the study would be used to reinforce the notion that people remain in poverty because they are less capable than those with higher incomes.

As neuroscientists, we interpret the results very differently. We know that the brain is most malleable in the early years of life and that experiences during that time have lifelong effects on the mind. Work by social scientists such as Sendhil Mullainathan at Harvard University and Eldar Shafir at Princeton University has shown that poverty depletes parents’ cognitive resources, leaving less capacity for making everyday decisions about parenting. These parents are also at far greater risk for depression and anxiety — poverty’s “mental tax.” All of this has important implications for children.

When parents are distracted or depressed, family life is likely to be characterized by conflict and emotional withdrawal rather than nurturing and supportive relationships with children. Parents don’t talk and read to their kids as often and make less eye contact with them. This accumulation of stress in children’s lives has cascading effects on brain systems critical to learning, remembering and reasoning.

As a society we cannot stand by when millions of children are at risk for not reaching their full cognitive and academic potential.

But then, in the name of science (in particular, in the name of randomized trials), here’s what they propose:

That’s why I am part of a team of social scientists and neuroscientists planning a large clinical trial in which 1,000 low-income mothers will be randomly assigned to receive either a large ($333) or small ($20) monthly income supplement for the first three years of their children’s lives. Periodic assessments of the children and their mothers will enable us to estimate the impact of these cash supplements on children’s cognitive, emotional and brain development, as well as the effect on family functioning. . .

The political battles for major expansion of these types of programs are unlikely to be won until we can provide hard scientific proof of their effectiveness. Until then, we need to do all we can to support policies that offer our most vulnerable children the best chance of reaching their full potential.

I understand the desire to want to be able to produce and use “hard” numbers to intervene in public debate. I do it all the time on this blog.

However, we need to be concerned about attempts to use poor people—first in Third World countries, and now in the United States—as guinea pigs “to estimate the impact of these cash supplements on children’s cognitive, emotional and brain development, as well as the effect on family functioning.”

We can well imagine what the reaction would be if, in the name of science, we devised a large clinical trial in which 1,000 high-income mothers were randomly assigned to a large (say, $10,000) or small (say, $1,000) monthly income deduction in order to estimate the impact of these cash deductions on children’s cognitive, emotional and brain development, as well as the effect on family functioning.

achievement gap


We all know the gap between the rich and poor in the United States has been growing for decades—and there’s been no let-up of that trend during the current economic recovery.

That’s bad enough. However, unless we confront that problem and change the existing institutions, it’s only going to get worse in the decades ahead. That’s because, as Michelle Chan [ht: ja] explains, the country is leaving way too many children behind.

Poverty limits access to basic resources like nutrition and decent childcare. But a geometrically expanding class divide looms over all income brackets, as wealthier parents zealously splurge on “enrichment expenditures”. . .

So poor parents struggling just to cover basic food and shelter face both massive income inequality in their day-to-day lives, plus a seven-fold gap in the amount they can “invest” to help their children thrive in the future. Given that social mobility is already suppressed at all income levels—with children’s future earnings highly correlated with the earnings of their parents—the Herculean amount of “catch up” poor parents must undertake just to get on the same footing as their higher-earning peers makes the great American wealth gap seem even more devastating, for both today’s working households and generations to come. . .

economic status is a growing factor in academic outcomes, as “the relationship between income and achievement has grown sharply” over the last 50 years. So wealth trumps intellect on many levels.

In other words, the income gap is a growing factor in academic outcomes—and the children at the bottom are falling further and further behind.

Why? The achievement gap stems in part from the difficulty poor parents have in educating their children at home, as well as the massive funding gaps in programs like subsidized childcare and Head Start. It’s also because poor children are segregated outside the home into poorly funded and overburdened schools. The exact opposite has been taking place at the top, where both private and public expenditures are moving the children of wealthy households further and further ahead.

All of which means that, just as the income gap has grown sharply since the mid-1970s, so has the relationship between income and academic achievement.

The growing class divide in the United States looms over all aspects of society, especially the fate of our children.

What recovery?

Posted: 16 September 2015 in Uncategorized
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The United States is more than six years into the officially designated and much-vaunted economic recovery from the Great Recession. But most Americans wouldn’t know it.

According to the latest report from the Census Bureau (pdf), median household income was $53,657 in 2014, not statistically different in real terms from the 2013 median of $54,462. This is the third consecutive year that the annual change was not statistically significant, following two consecutive years of annual declines in median household income. As a result, in 2014, real median household income was 6.5 percent lower than in 2007, the year before the Great Recession began.


Meanwhile, the official poverty rate in 2014 was 14.8 percent, meaning there were 46.7 million people living at or below the poverty line. Neither the poverty rate nor the number of people in poverty was statistically different from the 2013 estimates. Nor was poverty rate in 2014 for children under age 18 (21.1 percent) or their number (15.5 million). Both rates in 2014—the overall poverty rate and the child poverty rate—were significantly higher than they were in 2007.

And so I repeat my question: what recovery?


Certainly not in the United States.

According to the most recent study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation,

Nationally, 22 percent of children (16.1 million) lived in families with incomes below the poverty line in 2013, up from 18 percent in 2008 (13.2 million), representing nearly 3 million more children in poverty. The child poverty rate among African Americans (39 percent) was more than double the rate for non-Hispanic whites (14 percent) in 2013.

In 2013, three in 10 children (22.8 million) lived in families where no parent had full-time, year-round employment. Since 2008, the number of such children climbed by nearly 2.7 million. Roughly half of all American Indian children (50 percent) and African-American children (48 percent) had no parent with full-time, year-round employment in 2013, compared with 37 percent of Latino children, 24 percent of non-Hispanic white children and 23 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander children.

As the authors of the report make clear,

Growing up in poverty is one of the greatest threats to healthy child development. Already high compared with other developed nations, the child poverty rate in the United States increased dramatically as a result of the economic crisis. The official poverty line in 2013 was $23,624 for a family of two adults and two children. Poverty and financial stress can impede children’s cognitive development and their ability to learn. It can contribute to behavioral, social and emotional problems and poor health. The risks posed by economic hardship are greatest among children who experience poverty when they are young and among those who experience persistent and deep poverty.

It’s quite possible (given the decline in unemployment) the indicators of economic well-being for children will improve when the 2014 data are available. However, I’ll venture to guess the rates of poverty and of parents’ lack of secure employment will still be much too high—so high they’ll demonstrate that, in the United States, children simply don’t count.


The details of the agreement between Greece and its European creditors are now available. And there’s no doubt about it: this (as the top-trending Twitter hash tag puts it) is a coup. Greece has been forced to surrender (or, given the upcoming debate in parliament, to have the freedom to consider surrendering) a large part of its national sovereignty in exchange for a new European Stability Mechanism program bailout.

Alexis Tsipras [ht: sk] may or may not be a hero, “who fought like a lion against unfathomably large interests” and made it possible for Greece “to live to fight another day.” But that’s really beside the point. So, in the end, is Greek sovereignty—and, for that matter, the humiliating terms sponsored by Germany.

Because what we’re really witnessing is a coup in Europe as a whole. Merkel, Tsipras, Schäuble, and the rest are just the dramatis personae of a series of events that have turned the European project against its own people.

The dream, of course, was to expand democracy, eliminate national rivalries, and promote universal prosperity. But now the European project has become a nightmare of enforcing the conditions of creating and capturing profits—of large enterprises and banks—across an entire continent. And anything that gets in the way—whether existing pensions and state-owned enterprises or rehiring doctors, nurses, and cleaning women—will be sacrificed on the altar of those free-flowing profits.

And who are the losers? The hundreds of millions of workers, farmers, students, young people, and children who are being forced to endure extraordinary levels of unemployment, poverty, and economic insecurity in order to promote a post-2008 recovery that is benefiting only a tiny minority across the continent. And that’s just as true in Germany as in Greece, in England as in Spain. Not to the same degree, of course. But the current negotiations over Greek debt—in which all of their leaders and finance ministers have participated and to which they have given their assent—have demonstrated to the working people of Europe that nothing will be allowed to stand in the way of the interests of the free deployment of capital under conditions that are administered by the troika.

And if an entire nation has to be humiliated in order to serve as an example, so be it. . .