Our Kids

The American Dream in Crisis

Putnam begins with his high school class of 1959 in Port Clinton, Ohio. The vast majority of those students — "our kids" — went on to lives better than those of their parents. But their children and grandchildren have had harder lives amid diminishing prospects. Putnam tells of lessening opportunity through poignant life stories of rich and poor kids from cities and suburbs, drawing on a formidable body of research done just for this book.

386 pages. ©2015.
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Reader Reviews for this Book

Brownju

Review posted November 28, 2017

5

Amazing book about our families in America! I would recommend this book to all NON educators. It shares the issues facing the family structure in our country. Educators from the Principal to the secretary to the custodian should read this book to encourage them that their jobs are really important to our next generation.

arbusch

Review posted November 22, 2017

5

Really great overview of his research and how systems continue the class divide.

crhughes72

Review posted October 2, 2017

4

this was an eye opening account of what future generations have in store. i would recommend to a friend.

Phaithybird

Review posted September 28, 2017

4

This book most assuredly puts the long held belief in the American Dream for Everyone in question. Putnam does a great job at innermixing life stories with data that makes you question the very corner stones of the American public education standards and practices. This book was both eye opening and captivating.

Sheryl M

Review posted September 11, 2017

3

I think that the author illustrates many studies on the subject and outcomes from the socioeconomic divide in our current culture. I do believe it "takes a village" and even more important not only to raise a child but to raise parents and families. I would be interested to follow how others put this data to use and solutions to helping create the change necessary for our kids from low income backgrounds.

taharris70

Review posted August 7, 2017

4

Once again, Putnam provides insight into the shifting trends and evolution of modern America. "Our Kids" sheds light on the disparities faced between affluent and impoverished youth as well as how these disparities manifest in the areas of education, family life, and future prospects. This is a great read for anyone wishing to work with today's youth, to get a glimpse into the struggles faced by America's teenagers every day.

jrails

Review posted July 27, 2017

3

I wish I liked this book more than I did. The stories of the families set up a dichotomy between the poor and rich in parenting which bothered me. On the other hand, some of the suggestions for what can be done were insightful and useful, such as making sure social supports were maintained, mentoring of youth, and not blaming schools. I appreciate the extensive research that went into the book and the footnotes.

RhiannonO

Review posted May 31, 2017

4

Robert Putnam did a great job of illustrating the divides between have and have-not kids, focusing on aspects beyond money such as parenting styles, neighborhoods, schools, and community supports. He reiterated several times that the wealth gap has grown within racial demographic groups, most notably when he discussed Atlanta: "metro Atlanta seems on its way to encompassing three cities, two of them prosperous and two of them black." That sentence stuck out to me as an example of how racial segregation continues to divide people, but now income segregation divides the black community. Putnam utilized recent research on scarcity to talk about parent's bandwidth rather than blaming a culture of poverty for bad parenting, and also talked about the role community and schools play (or don't) in helping kids get away from home. I happened to be watching season 4 of The Wire at the same time as reading the chapter on schools and in the show, one of the teachers says Wednesday is the best day because it's the farthest the kids get from the weekend and whatever is happening at home. I found myself comparing my personal experience to the students in Putnam's case studies to figure out where I fit. I definitely grew up in "the immigrant" neighborhood (my hometown was so ridiculously redlined, although I didn't realize it as a child) and among other families who were a mix of blue and white collar, mostly employed regularly, and mostly aspiring to a middle class lifestyle. We could safely walk to school, we had a park nearby, and neighbors looked out for each other's kids. In a sense I experienced the "our kids" mentality growing up. However, my high school was poor, and we had armed narcotics officers patrolling the campus, there were frequent fights, kids were using drugs, and worst of all, we had almost no college recruiters on campus in the entire four years. We did have military recruiters once a week, and recruiters from for-profit universities. Somehow by the late 90s when I was in high school, my community shifted from "our kids" to "they're not my problem." I remember feeling like applying for colleges outside of our local schools was some impossible feat, and having no one to guide me, either at school or at home. I can only imagine what it was like for the kids whose parents had never been to or aspired to any college. This book left me wondering, how can we get to a mindset of all kids are "our" kids? How, as a community member, can I help youth get the opportunities they need? What are my points of intervention, when I don't come into regular contact with kids through my work or personal life? What can I do to make my community better so that the young people whose lives intersect with mine have a better chance at success, however they choose to define it? It's not as simple as looking back to the past, because as one African-American classmate of Putnam's said, "Your then was not my then, and your now isn't even my now."

MYTI CASA

Review posted October 25, 2016

5

Really great book, the best was reading Child Development;What We Are Learning. Great to see how we expanded our understanding of how younger children experiences and socioeconomic influences.

dcoonse

Review posted October 17, 2016

4

This is a very eye opening account of different lives from the school, it is funny how different people choose different path's.

Kalika

Review posted October 3, 2016

4

This book was very readable and engaging as the author jumped back and forth between stories of a variety of families and the research and statistics they represented. Much of the research was disturbing to realize how great the gap has become, my background growing up would have put me at an extreme disadvantage if I had been born when my children were . I would have liked to have had more elaboration on how to move towards narrowing the gap.

JenniferKalez

Review posted September 27, 2016

5

This was a sobering read. Like so many things in life, success comes down to equal opportunity. It's a tough topic, but I didn't feel too downtrodden after I finished it. I passed it along to my best friend, who is an Oregon public school teacher.

acox

Review posted September 15, 2016

4

The author or the book was able to take different family structures, financial differences, location of schools, external support differences which affects a child in the most profound way. Robert Putnam demonstrates the in depth look at internal and external barriers and strengths. It was a much needed approach to interested readers of what affects our youth today. As a community what can be done to make the playing field easier to help develop achievers both emotionally and educationally?

dpalter

Review posted September 2, 2016

4

This book shows the importance of peer mentors and students having someone in their lives that they are exposed to that they can see the possibilities that life offers.

kkmram

Review posted August 3, 2016

3

A must read... very insightful and thought provoking.

millerk

Review posted June 7, 2016

4

Very interesting perspective on the changes in culture that adversely effect education in our country. The book does describes an interesting perspective as it relates to the decline of a culture, as has happened to so many cultures in history prior to the United States.

mcneisa

Review posted June 3, 2016

5

Great book that brings to light the issues we face in our society today. Highly recommended.

[email protected]

Review posted May 20, 2016

4

Robert Putnam does a wonderful job describing the problems of today's children, and I'm hopeful that it will inspire many to put aside other issues and begin to put our children first.

sharonleighty

Review posted May 18, 2016

4

I found the book right on with the facts and what we need to do as nonprofits and throughout the country.

tscott

Review posted May 12, 2016

4

Very good book with lots of useful information.

abrowne1

Review posted March 31, 2016

5

I love Putnum's approach and study to the changing of American communities and children. This book was right on the mark. I look forward to more from his perspective.

Jackie LaBonte

Review posted February 29, 2016

5

This book sheds some light on kids growing up in America today. Comparing kids from diverse neighborhoods and parenting backgrounds etc. A lot of data but I enjoyed the personal stories best.

sramseywatson

Review posted February 28, 2016

5

I will admit that it was hard reading Mr. Putman’s book. Not because of any flaws in his writing or research, but in the stark portrayal of a diminishing American dream. The fracturing of the economy, politics and culture remind me of staring at a broken windshield and wondering if anyone survived. My hope for everyone's future is that policy makers can come together across all divisions in society to put aside differences and look at the hope offered in some of his solutions.

MrJjSparks

Review posted February 17, 2016

4

In Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, Robert Putnam presents the case that the class-gap in America is widening, and has been for some time, due to a number of factors. We are shown vignettes in a number of communities across the country, including Atlanta, GA, Orange County, CA, and Bend, OR, among others. The vignettes mostly contrast two families whose children are beyond high school age, but not yet in their 30's. With each set of families, Putnam attempts to contrast the class-gap by choosing families of the same race. The vignettes, by no means exhaustive, are backed by more extensive research that is explained in the last chapter. Graphs are used liberally, but clearly, to show, a "scissoring" of opportunity between those in the "upper-middle class" and the "lower class" (each defined, not by wealth, but by education): many of trends that he presents show a lowering in frequency -- of family dinners, for instance-- but we see a trend of even less frequency in the lower class, hence the scissor effect. Overall, Our Kids is well written. The stories are emotional and touching, but not in a manipulative way. The writing is easy to read and engaging, with enough use of data to be convincing that there is a widening class-gap in America. What we do with that knowledge, remains to be seen.

sderht

Review posted January 26, 2016

5

Putnam's books are always supported by solid research. Timely in this election year when inequality has become a major issue.

Nora Harrison

Review posted January 18, 2016

5

Great combination of data and interviews that tells a troubling tale. Well researched. Well written. Even better than Putnam's other best-seller, Bowling Alone.

bellboysmama

Review posted December 29, 2015

4

As a parent, a little frightening. As a member of the human services workforce, very motivating. Too few people see our children as what they are, and this book served as a powerful reminder.

ashleyjohnsonrx

Review posted December 23, 2015

5

The personal stories of young adults and robust statistics provided in this book were so captivating I had a difficult time putting it down. The book provides information that was both relevant and easy to relate to in terms of the widening opportunity gap for kids from different social (educational) levels. The main take-away points the book emphasizes are there are many potential solutions both locally and nationally. I personally have been inspired to make more of an intentional commitment to be involved in mentoring children in my community and be an advocate to remove pay-to-play fees for extracurricular activities. An enlightening and inspiring read!

Gelindo L. Ferrin

Review posted November 19, 2015

4

An excellent exploration of why so many our kids are in poverty. Great introductory stories of individual circumstances and resolutions. Excellent charts and analysis of why our kids are in such dire straights. Good explanations of solutions and the probabilities of success.

JoeMartin

Review posted November 19, 2015

4

Robert Putnam does an excellent job of capturing what is happening with our young people today compared to past generations in an entertaining way through real life stories.

tmcgregor22

Review posted November 18, 2015

3

Very insightful with ubber amounts of data to back the authors claims. I enjoyed the push for extracurricular and hands-on activities for low-income students. His recommendations seem to piggyback the Development Assets philosophy espoused by the Search Institute.

Art

Review posted November 17, 2015

5

I have recently been elected as president of the local Navy League council and "Our Kids" has been very helpful in my effort to energize the activities of the Navy League Sea Cadet program. Some of the members of our Sea Cadet program live in the Rogue Valley areas where programs for growth are limited.

roxannajolly

Review posted November 14, 2015

5

Another great read by Putnam. In essence, to rebuild our communities, we must address that inequalities exist -- inequalities of income and wealth and of opportunity and social mobility. There is a growing disparity between upper and lower classes, which affects parenting, families, education, and the broader community. The book is appropriately titled. As an individualistic culture, America has mostly been about "my" and perhaps, we can do better by focusing on "our." Although I remember discussing many of these concepts during my sociology classes in undergrad, there was still a lot to chew on in this book. For example, the author makes a good point about how single parent families rose with imprisonment rates. While correlation is not causation, I work with a lot of families in the child welfare system who are poor and who have at least one parent in prison. In the state of Oregon, women in prison have far more opportunities (take a look at Coffee Creek's list of programs, for example) than men. Even so, people with felonies have a hard time finding employment and housing. In Jackson County, It's not difficult to understand that people turn to criminal activities and substance abuse because they lose hope. Clients in Jackson and Josephine County have an especially hard time finding housing. It's not uncommon for them to be on the HUD waiting list for months or years and when they finally have a voucher in hand and begin their search for housing, which is time-limited, they face the fact that affordable housing is not available. I also agree that money should be poured into schools, but being that birth-3 and even birth-5 is a critical period of development, perhaps our country would do well to pour more money into childcare, preschool, and programs such as Head Start. From personal experience, I have also seen how poorer schools have experienced disciplinary problems. While completing my MSW in Phoenix, I had the privilege of being a school social work intern at an elementary school that served over 1,000 students, many who were low-income and who qualified for McKinney-Vento. I was shocked to find that students were sent to the principal on a regular basis. Third grade students faced in-school and out-of-school suspensions and I questioned these decisions because we were essentially sending children home to play video games all day. One student with autism was made to eat in the noisy school cafeteria and was eventually expelled from school because his behaviors were unmanageable, but the school was not accommodating his needs. It couldn't because they were trying to maintain order in a chaotic environment and their excuse was that this child was interfering with the learning and safety of others. While programs such as Teach for America attempt to remedy such issues, we have a systemic problem of teachers not being paid well and they manage a large number of students with little help and often dip into their own pockets to purchase supplies for their classrooms. We can do better. Rather than turning down our noses to the lowly paid workers in society, perhaps we can have a little more compassion, treat them with respect, and acknowledge that they deserve a piece of the American Dream, too.

realestate

Review posted October 29, 2015

4

Great read...the kids are the future...need to make sure they can live their dream

Pamela Ruddock

Review posted October 19, 2015

5

Although we all know that the American Dream has changed, it's amazing to see just how much it's changed. Also to see the widening gap in upper class to those living in poverty. Sure was an eye opener.

wcbcpastor

Review posted September 16, 2015

3

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis Robert D. Putnam New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015 387 pages Weaving statistical analysis with stories from families all across the economic spectrum Mr. Putnam makes a compelling case for the danger that income inequality poses for ‘our kids.’ Drawing on his own experiences growing up in Port Clinton, Ohio, and his classmates he illustrates the growing divide between the haves and have-nots and the impact this inequality has on succeeding generations. Interspersing interviews with upper class families and not-so-upper class families Putman illustrates differences between families. For example, he cites research that indicates children of well-off parents hear some 19 million more words than children of working-class parents. The statistics he presents clearly illustrate a growing divide in our country. The interviews and statistics illustrate that the divide is not primarily about racial differences, though racial issues are still prevalent. He notes in particular the continuing neighborhood segregation than has been part of our social fabric for the past half-century. Our neighborhoods, he writes, have a pronounced impact on our kids primarily during infancy and later adolescence. Of particular interest to me were the comments about religious influences and the role of the public schools in failing to take positive action about the growing inequality. First, using statistics and anecdotal information Mr. Putnam writes, “poor families are generally less involved in religious communities than affluent families.” This impacts childhood development in a variety of ways. Research indicates that young people involved in religious activities are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol and they tend to have better academic scores than those children who are not involved in religious activities. Second, the public school system comes under scrutiny by Mr. Putnam, an educator himself. The issues challenging public schools are complex and often difficult to untangle. Neighborhood sorting, i.e. segregation, continues and creates unequal schools which result in radically different outcomes for students. Putnam writes, “there’s no denying that rich and poor kids in this country attend vastly different schools nowadays.” He notes that experts indicate that school funding has no appreciable impact on student performance. The most important factors in student performance are the things the student brings with him/her into the school: income level, the parenting skill of parents, neighborhood influences, and funding for extra-curricular activities. The book closes with a chapter devoted to suggesting solutions, or as he writes “a menu of complementary approaches that have some collective promise of changing our current course.” The suggestions make for interesting reading. However, most of them involve at one level or another the redistribution of wealth. He writes, “[S]imply providing relatively small amount of additional cash to porr families can improve the achievements of their kids at school….” Where will that cash come from? He suggests extending the Earned Income Credit and existing child tax credits. But to extend those credits means that someone else has to pick up to slack. Who might that be? He also suggests that schools make significant investments in student guidance counselors. Given current school budgets, at least in Oregon, that might require letting core subject teachers go in order to hire guidance counselors. Ultimately as the statistics and anecdotes remind us, the single most influential aspect of student achievement is not the income gap but the ability of parents to spur their kids on to greater achievement and the ability of communities to foster an environment that is more conducive to providing family stability. Indeed, our kids need more than we often are providing. Steve Schenewerk

ChristyCD

Review posted September 11, 2015

4

A good look at how class differences affect opportunity (as well as many other related factors) for kids. It's also very clear that it isn't a single problem, but something that needs to be changed systemically and in many realms (family, school, community, etc.). Definitely relates to Siskiyou County and the changes of the last few decades.

anetradb

Review posted August 17, 2015

5

Great book about the trials of childhood poverty and the impact on early learning...A must read!!!

crocker821

Review posted July 20, 2015

4

A compelling look at the widening opportunity gap between rich and poor children and the consequences for America. The interviews with the children and parents were very illuminating and this is a book that leaves you with much to think about. The author also includes suggestions as to how we might address this growing inequality.

Mr. Bizjak

Review posted April 27, 2015

3

This book could not have arrived at a better time. Currently, I am teaching "Of Mice and Men." I was able to lift excerpts from this book, and place them directly with Steinbeck's story. It was great to see how well the kids interacted with both texts. Several students began to dig deeper into the idea of the American Dream and whether it exists. The population I teach want to believe that the American Dream is alive and well; however, the disparities that they see daily makes them struggle with keeping the hope alive. Putnam's "Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis" muses on the stark reality of the "haves" and "have-nots" in society. Initially, I took that very idea and incorporated into my "To Kill a Mockingbird" unit. Putnam does an excellent job of addressing the issue of disparities among all families, not just the under-served and underrepresented people in American society today. This is a must read for anyone who wants to effect change in and out of the academic arena.