Does your family aspire to the American Dream of a decent paying job, a few weeks of paid vacation, a home of your own, and the hope of retiring before you die?
Maybe try Canada.
Our country has historically prided itself on being a socially mobile society, where hard work is more important than the race or class you’re born into. Indeed, during the three decades after World War II, social mobility increased — particularly for the white working class.
That mobility became part of our self-identity, especially when juxtaposed with the old “caste societies” of Europe and their static class systems. Today, however, that story has been turned on its head.
If you forgot to be born into a wealthy family, you’re better off today living in Northern Europe or Canada, where social safety nets and investments in early childhood education have paid big dividends for ordinary citizens. In fact, Canada now has three times the social mobility of the US.
Young people in the US face huge inequalities of opportunity, in large part based on the wealth — or lack of wealth — of their parents. Researchers call this the “intergenerational transmission of advantage,” referring to the dozens of ways that affluent families boost their children’s prospects starting at birth.
Affluent families make investments that give their kids a leg up through childhood enrichment activities, including travel, music lessons, museum visits, and summer camp.
As they grow older, wealthier kids have better access to college guidance, test preparation, financial literacy skills, and debt-free or low-debt educations.
Then, as they enter the workforce, wealthy young adults have access to their parents’ social networks and are able to take unpaid internships to help them develop job skills. Meanwhile, children in families unable to make these investments fall further behind.
Combined with the 2008 economic meltdown and budget cuts in public programs that foster opportunity for middle and low-income families, we’re witnessing accelerating advantages for the affluent and compounding disadvantages for everyone else. And once inequalities open up, research says, they rarely decrease over time.
The US could rise to this challenge, as we did in the years after World War II and in the early 1960s, by resolving to make robust public investments in policies that include everyone.
But in our increasingly plutocratic political system, the very wealthy — who have oversized political influence along with oversized bank accounts — have less stake in expanding opportunities for the rest of us, as their own children and grandchildren advance through privatized systems.
We can’t stop well-off families from passing advantages to their children, but we can give everyone else a fair shot.
High-quality early childhood education, universal access to health care and nutrition, resources for those with learning disabilities and special needs, and tuition-free higher education for first-generation college students are key initiatives that would help level the playing field.
We could make this possible by taxing wealth. Revenue from a steeply progressive estate or inheritance tax could capitalize an education opportunity trust fund.
If we don’t take action, the United States will further drift toward a caste society fractured along class lines, where opportunity, occupation, and social status are determined by inherited advantage.
By then, our presidential race won’t be the only thing tempting people to move to Canada.
Not everyone can pay for the news. But if you can, we need your support.
Truthout is widely read among people with lower incomes and among young people who are mired in debt. Our site is read at public libraries, among people without internet access of their own. People print out our articles and send them to family members in prison — we receive letters from behind bars regularly thanking us for our coverage. Our stories are emailed and shared around communities, sparking grassroots mobilization.
We’re committed to keeping all Truthout articles free and available to the public. But in order to do that, we need those who can afford to contribute to our work to do so — especially now, because we have just 7 days left to raise $45,000 in critical funds.
We’ll never require you to give, but we can ask you from the bottom of our hearts: Will you donate what you can, so we can continue providing journalism in the service of justice and truth?