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Americans have always been more tolerant of income inequality than their European forbearers; perhaps this was because the average standard of living was increasing across the board and because the “rising tide was lifting all boats.” Americans also believed that inequality was acceptable because there was lots of movement up and down the income ladder. If one worked hard and followed the rules, he or she had a good chance of rising to the top (the “Horatio Alger” ideal). But the U.S. now faces a fourfold threat: stagnant growth in standards of living for all below the top rungs of the income ladder; a growing gap between the rich and the rest; high rates of early unplanned children by parents who are not prepared to raise them, and low rates of upward mobility that threaten belief in equality of opportunity.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the recent patterns of uneven child development at early ages. To paraphrase Robert Putnam (2015), “our kids” are not doing well and need help to succeed. Larger majorities do not believe their children's generation will be as well off as they were. If we are to restore opportunity and improve upward mobility in the United States, we need to start very young and we need to begin right now.


Fig. 8A.1 Disparities in cognitive and socio-behavioral outcomes by income level at 9 and 24 months (Source: Disparities in Early Learning and Development: Lessons from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Birth Cohort (ECLS-B) – Executive Summary by Halle, Tamara, and Nicole Forry. Reproduced with permission of Child Trends Inc. in the format Republish in a book via Copyright Clearance Center)

Fig. 8A.2 Disparities in cognitive and socio-behavioral outcomes by education of mother (Source: Disparities in Early Learning and Development: Lessons from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Birth Cohort (ECLS-B) – Executive Summary by Halle, Tamara, and Nicole Forry. Reproduced with permission of Child Trends Inc. in the format Republish in a book via Copyright Clearance Center)


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