Studies and data on opportunity in America.

We are all products of our experiences, and for today's young people, the Great Recession was one they may never forget. 

In a paper first published in 2013, researchers tried to figure out how the recession changed attitudes among kids who were high school seniors between 2008 and 2010. The paper (which you can read in full here) found that kids graduating high school during the recession were more concerned about inequality and environmental issues than kids who graduated before. They were also less concerned with gaining material wealth. 

New U.S. Census Bureau data show a decline in childhood poverty rates for the first time in 10 years. That's big news. But as Emily Badger points out in her Washington Post article, that's about the only good news coming out of the most recent poverty data gleaned from the Bureau's 2013 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement.

potomon / flickr

Michigan State University has a new study out about "mindset messages," or how what we believe can change how well we can do.

takomabibelot / flickr

There have been more than a few emails between the State of Opportunity team this week about research or articles with some version of "we need to share this," as the subject.  

Not all of it is made for easy sharing on social networks, so we've developed kind of a backlog that we're going to take care of right here, right now. 

It's not necessarily sunshine and rainbows, but I threw in some cheer at the end. 

How do you make a living on zero income?

One thing we've talked about since the beginning of this project is how many kids in Michigan are growing up in a household that earn no income. It might seem impossible, but it could be a reality for as many as 10% of the group of women who at one time got cash assistance, or "welfare." We've met several of these folks in our reporting.

One of our most popular, and saddest, posts is about the challenges kids face later on in life if they're born to parents who are living in poverty. The disadvantage begins before a child actually enters the world and starts with a lack of prenatal care. Jennifer Guerra and Dustin Dwyer revisit, "The problem with growing up poor" and how it contributes to further inequality gaps later in life.

flickr/Matt Elsberry

The American Dream is an idea that has a long history in this country. For immigrants in the 1800s, America was seen as a land of opportunity, a place where anyone could achieve anything. All that was required was hard work.

There has been a lot of discussion among policymakers in the past few years about how to make the American Dream more of a reality. But at the same time, new research shows that opportunity in America hasn’t changed much in a long, long time. 

So, what does that research tell us about the policy of improving opportunity? 

wikimedia commons

In the early 1800s, the newly formed state of Georgia had a lot of new land under its control. The land had been taken mostly from the native Muskogee and Cherokee people, and leaders of the young American state were looking for ways to transfer the land to white settlers. What they ultimately decided on was a series of lotteries. 

The forced transfer of property from native people to white settlers was common in America during the 19th century, but the lottery system was not. It meant that basically any white male adult in Georgia, rich or poor, had the same shot at winning a valuable piece of land. And, while the system itself was unjust and just plain wrong on multiple levels, it also set up an ideal research experiment.

If you're a social scientist looking back, what you see in Georgia in the early 1800s isn't just a lottery, it's a randomized controlled trial. And it allows economists to ask a question that's still relevant today: What happens to a family when it suddenly comes into wealth? 

I've been planning to do a radio story on empathy for more than a year, but it's never really come together. Now I probably don't have to. This animation from the Royal Society of Arts narrated by Brene Brown breaks down the difference between empathy and sympathy so well, and why it matters.

The only thing this animation doesn't cover that I am curious about, is the connection between empathy and policies around poverty. I talked to researcher Elizabeth Segal, one of the few academics studying this, about the connection.

John Millais

Every so often we post something in the "whiteboard" category. Named after the modern incarnation of the chalkboard, they're usually meant to help educators work through some of the themes we deal with here at State of Opportunity with their students. 

But the recent coverage of the  50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's declaration of the War on Poverty is a whiteboard moment for all. There's been lots of talk from politicians spanning the spectrum from Florida's Republican Senator Marco Rubio to President Obama, about whether or not the war has been successful.

One important aspect of this debate is the view that policy makers and their constituents have about "poor people."

Sharon Pruitt / Flickr

I came across a study today that looked at how a group of very gifted children became "innovators and leaders" as adults. The study, from Vanderbilt University, identified 320 gifted children at the age of 13 using an SAT test. The cutoff score meant that all of the 320 students in the sample represented the top 1 in 10,000 for achievement on that test.

The study's authors followed the kids for 30 years, and (surprise, surprise) the children ended up achieving great things. Most earned at least a Masters degree in college. Forty-four percent earned a PhD. Many held patents. A few wrote novels. Two became vice presidents at Fortune 500 companies. One ended up advising the president.

What do these results tell us? The study's authors say the results show conclusively that gifted kids make for gifted adults. From the study's conclusion: 

Young adolescents with profound talent in mathematical and verbal reasoning hold extraordinary potential for enriching society by contributing creative products and competing in global economies.

But, as you might have guessed, I don't think the lessons from this study are quite so simple.