“Our” Kids

child poverty

Reposted from the Harvard Kennedy School:

When Robert Putnam was a teenager, somebody put up the money for him to play football on the high school team. And somebody put up the money for his spikes and helmet. Somebody also put up the money for years of music lessons and for an instrument so he could play in band. That somebody was the community of Port Clinton, Ohio, where Putnam, Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy, grew up in the 1950s. That small community on the shore of Lake Erie about halfway between Toledo and Cleveland, came together to do all that because it believed that it was right to support young Robert Putnam, just as it was right to give to every other kid in town the same opportunity to succeed. There was plenty wrong with a place like Port Clinton in the 1950s, including racism and chauvinism, Putnam readily concedes, but to a surprising degree, all the members of his high school graduating class were, in the eyes of that community, “our kids.”

Today, in Port Clinton, a lot of kids can’t play football or band because they can’t afford the hundreds of dollars needed to pay for the equipment. The lives of the bottom third, often simply characterized by personal and societal neglect, are unimaginable, in fact unknown, to those succeeding in today’s America.

“Over the course of the last four decades, our sense of ‘we’ has shriveled,” Putnam says. “Now when people talk about “our kids” they talk about their own biological kids, they don’t think about all kids. This leads to a situation that’s bad for the economy and bad for democracy. But it’s also just not right. We have an obligation to care for other people’s kids too, not just our own.”

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