What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. How many times have you heard that tired old saw? Surprisingly, there is a good bit of truth in that statement especially if the goose is a poor child and the gander is a rich child. Who knew?
Through the study of some 5 million families a truth has emerged from the mountain of data. Some of the findings are not earth-shattering pearls of wisdom. Cities like Baltimore, Detroit, Orlando, and Chicago are inherently problematic for a poor child to have any hope of upward social mobility. These cities are highly segregated and unequal. They have a higher crime rate and worse schools. They are also more likely than not to have a lot of single-parent families.
Courtesy of this study, we now know that poor children have better odds if they moved to places with more economic mobility like Fairfax County, Virginia, Bergen County, N.J., Seattle, Cedar County, Iowa, or any number of other communities.
So what’s the big deal? What is the learning from this study?
The learning is that rich kids, with all the built-in advantages of economic freedom and stability, also fare better when they live in these very same communities as compared to just average communities. In other words, whether you are a poor or a rich child, you benefit in your adult years from living in a community where economic mobility is embraced.
Again, not that earth-shattering – not until you consider the fear that permeates any effort to positively leverage social mobility. That fear: Any increase in economic mobility comes at the expense of those who already enjoy it. Simply put, doing good things for some means equal or greater bad things for others. It’s this fear that has stymied progress on health care, food stamps, child care, or crumbling roads and bridges for the past thirty-years. The damage from this fear continues to this day. It is at the heart of “I got mine, sorry about your luck.”
The code words for this fear in all things economic are “zero-sum gains” – meaning if we put struggling, poor children in classrooms with rich children, the rich kids will be worse off and suffer. We worry if we contaminate “nice” neighborhoods with the occasional poor family, the nice neighborhood won’t be nice any more.
I’ve written about this often since, in my opinion, this is the greatest obstacle to anti-poverty programs. You can see this fear playing out – cut food stamps before they affect social security, we can’t afford Obamacare because it might affect Medicare, or we can’t repair our deteriorating bridges and roads because it might mean closing some sacrosanct corporate tax loophole.
Anti-poverty programs to the poor are the anemic twenty-third cousin to the perpetual generational endowment of the one-percenters. Without some positive governmental influence through boot-strapping, what hope is there for the neighborhoods of the generational poor and their children? For most of these communities, hope is as rare a commodity as fresh produce at the corner market.
Helping poor kids won’t harm rich kids. Helping poor sick people get medical care won’t impact Medicare recipients. The jobs created from repairing our infrastructure pay for themselves. If, and only if, we overcome the zero-sum fear underpinning bogus economic slogans perpetuated by the conservative media’s echo chamber.
Remarkably, instead of matching action with the mantra of “a rising tide raises all ships,” conservative energies always seem to be solely focused upon elevating the pier just beyond reach.
If we step back and think about it, the only legitimate zero-sum fear is one that extinguishes hope. Poor kids and rich kids need essentially the same thing to insure their success. Instead of cities withering in inequality, future generations need communities embracing institutions promoting social and economic mobility. Now we have a study proving it.
I hope your Tuesday is a good one. Any direction you might want to take this conversation is, as always, encouraged.
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