The Danger of Telling Poor Kids That College is the Key to Social Mobility
Andrew Simmons says “College should be ‘sold’ to all students as an opportunity to experience an intellectual awakening,” rather than a way to a higher income.

When school environments casually yet consistently deemphasize the intellectual benefits of higher education, students become less imaginative about their futures.  According to ACT’s College Choice Report from November 2013, 32 percent of students pick a college major that doesn’t really interest them. The same study suggests that students are less likely to graduate when they do this.

He cites fascinating research that should how schools have a “hidden curriculum” that conditions kids for their positions in society:

  • Schools teaching the children of affluent families prepared those kids to take on leadership roles and nurtured their capacity for confident self-expression and argument.
  • Schools teaching children from low-income families focused on keeping students busy and managing behavior.
  • A middle-class school deemphasized individual expression and in-depth analysis and rewarded the dutiful completion of specified rote tasks.

The last category explains the misery of my own school years, and that of many boys I know. I totally agree with Simmons final challenge:

Schools can either perpetuate inequity through social reproduction or have a transformative effect and help students transcend it.

Religious Hostilities Reach a 6-Year High
Pew Research Center Reports that ,ore than 5.3 billion people (76% of the world’s population) live in countries with a high or very high level of restrictions on religion, up from 74% in 2011 and 68% as of mid-2007.

Among the world’s 25 most populous countries, Egypt, Indonesia, Russia, Pakistan and Burma (Myanmar) had the most restrictions on religion in 2012, when both government restrictions and social hostilities are taken into account. As in the previous year, Pakistan had the highest level of social hostilities involving religion, and Egypt had the highest level of government restrictions on religion

The Inequality Problem
According to David Brooks, the present divisive campaign against income inequality “lumps together different issues that are not especially related.”

At the top end, there is the growing wealth of the top 5 percent of workers….At the bottom end, there is a growing class of people stuck on the margins, generation after generation. This is caused by high dropout rates, the disappearance of low-skill jobs, breakdown in family structures and so on.

As both extremes have different causes, you cannot expect to raise lower incomes by reducing higher incomes.

Research on the effects of raising the minimum wage finds “no evidence that such raises had any effect on the poverty rates.” That’s because only “11% of the workers affected by such an increase come from poor households. Nearly two-thirds of such workers are the second or third earners living in households at twice the poverty line or above.”

The primary problem for the poor is not that they are getting paid too little for the hours they work. It is that they are not working full time or at all. Raising the minimum wage is popular politics; it is not effective policy.

Brooks says that the causes are a complex mix of social, cultural, and behavioral factors.

  • There is a very strong correlation between single motherhood and low social mobility.
  • There is a very strong correlation between high school dropout rates and low mobility.
  • here is a strong correlation between the fraying of social fabric and low economic mobility.
  • There is a strong correlation between de-industrialization and low social mobility.
  • Many men, especially young men, are engaging in behaviors that damage their long-term earning prospects; much more than comparable women.

Low income is the outcome of these interrelated problems, but it is not the problem. To say it is the problem is to confuse cause and effect. To say it is the problem is to give yourself a pass from exploring the complex and morally fraught social and cultural roots of the problem. It is to give yourself permission to ignore the parts that are uncomfortable to talk about but that are really the inescapable core of the thing.