Those at the bottom — and the
top — deserve to know why
their experiences are so different.
D.C.) -- Work hard
and you’ll get ahead
— that’s the mantra driven into young people across the country.
what happens when children born into poverty run face first into the
reality that the society they live in really isn’t that fair at all?
new research shows, they break down.
just released study published in the journal Child
Development tracked the middle school
experience of a group of
diverse, low-income students in Arizona. The study found that the kids
believed society was generally fair typically had high self-esteem,
classroom behavior, and less delinquent behavior outside of school when
showed up in the sixth grade.
those same kids left in the eighth grade, though, each of those
degraded — they showed lower self-esteem and worse behavior.
caused this downward slide?
short, belief in a fair and just system of returns ran head-on into
marginalized kids. When they see people that look like them struggling
working hard, they’re forced to reckon with the cognitive dissonance.
problem doesn’t afflict the well-off, who can comfortably imagine their
is the result of their hard work and not their inherited advantage.
Godfrey, a psychology professor at New York University and the study’s
that for marginalized kids who behave badly, “there’s this element
think of me this way anyway, so this must be who I am.”
that middle school is the time when many young people begin to notice
discrimination, identify as a member of a marginalized group, and
existence of systemic discrimination.
existence of a permanent and rigid system of inequality can be hard to
with at any age. The United States leads the world in overall wealth yet is
also near the top in childhood poverty, with one in five kids born into
an often-repeated myth about social mobility — the ability of the poor
become rich — the United States lags behind in this category. Canada
now has three
times the social mobility of the United States.
gap between the rich and poor starts early. A 2016
study by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund
reports: “From as early
as the age of 3, children from more affluent backgrounds tend to do
cognitive tests.” By age 5, children from poor families are three times
likely to be in the bottom 10 percent in cognitive ability.
a complex problem. But the solutions to this deep structural inequality
actually fairly straightforward.
short, we need major investments in universal public programs to
social safety net, ensure early childhood education as well as
education, and good-paying jobs.
other words, we need to help those born without inherited assets to get
same shot at education and employment as everyone else — and also
that if they fail, they won’t end up homeless.
who claim the country can’t afford such programs should look at the
subsidies lavished out to the ultra-wealthy. In 2016, half
a trillion dollars were doled out in tax subsidies,
overwhelmingly to the
before we do all that, we simply have to tell the truth: Our economic
far from fair. It’s tilted heavily against marginalized communities.
that to kids, rather than perpetuating a myth
about “fairness,” is an
important step forward.
Hoxie directs the Project on Taxation and
Opportunity at the Institute for Policy Studies. This report first
appeared at Otherwords.org
and is reprinted here with permission.