Policy: Economy

Big Ideas: On broken families, middle-class mobility, and bullying

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Center for American Progress,Entitlements,Joseph Lawler,Economy

Natalie Scholl for AEIdeas: Scary fact: According to researchers at the University of Michigan, “over 65 percent of cohabitating couples with kids are separated by the time the child turns 10 years old.”

The result? Adolescents who have lived apart from one of their parents for some time of their childhood are, according to researchers Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, “twice as likely to drop out of high school, twice as likely to have a child before age 20, and one and a half times as likely to be ‘idle’ — out of school and out of work — in their late teens and early twenties.”

The family is one of the main producers of skills, both cognitive (such as reading, writing and the ability to solve math and logic problems) and noncognitive (such as “the ability to play fairly with others, to delay gratification, to control emotions”), which are essential to employment.

For example, Schulz references a study on how home life affects noncognitive skills, measuring children’s self-control. It showed that children who had a father in the home were far more likely to choose a delayed (and larger) reward rather than a small and immediate one.

The breakdown of the intact, two-parent family means, for millions of people, the breakdown of one of the chief mechanisms for instilling these skills necessary for economic success in children. It also means increased “economic disparities and … greater dependence on government.”

 

STRONG MIDDLE CLASS LIFTS EVERYONE

Ben Olinsky and Sasha Post at the Center for American Progress: All Americans — conservatives and liberals alike — have long imagined our nation to be a land of equal opportunity, where anyone can succeed by dint of talent and hard work. Yet the reality is that economic mobility is a scarce commodity, and a child’s life chances are too often dictated by his or her parent’s pocketbook.

We now know that regions of the United States that have larger middle classes and less inequality have more economic mobility. As a consequence, a low-income child who grows up in an area with a large middle class is likely to earn more money and make a better life for himself or herself. Giving tax breaks and other benefits to the wealthy will only perpetuate the current era of diminished mobility; to reignite opportunity, policymakers must enlarge and strengthen a vibrant middle class.

 

BULLYING: AN OVERBLOWN PROBLEM

Emma Collins for the Reason Foundation: In 2010, Rutgers University Student Tyler Clementi committed suicide after his roommate filmed him kissing another man. The same year, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince killed herself after being bullied by a group of high school classmates. These highly publicized tragedies are part of a nationwide panic surrounding the supposed "bullying epidemic," and the resultant crusade to legislate it out of existence.

Both state and local governments have implemented measures that attempt to combat bullying. ... 

President Obama endorses the anti-bullying efforts and considers bullying a significant problem in the United States, stating in a recorded message that "for a long time bullying was treated as an unavoidable part of growing up, but more and more we are seeing how harmful it can be for our kids ... Putting a stop to bullying is a responsibility we all share."

But is bullying truly ravaging America's schools to an extent that necessitates such widespread government intervention? While it is a reprehensible practice that deserves the attention of a nation, the numbers suggest that bullying as a whole is actually declining in the U.S. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that between 1995 and 2009, the percentage of students who were "afraid of attack or harm at school" declined from 12 to 4 percent, while the victimization rate decreased fivefold. NCES also reported that the number of students being bullied has remained fairly constant over the years... This data is hardly suggestive of an epidemic.

Even if bullying were running rampant, legislation remains a problematic solution to the problem. To start, much of the anti-bullying legislation-though well intentioned-contains broad definitions of bullying that result in curtailed First Amendment rights and undeservedly draconian punishments.

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