STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

What we just learned about ladders, bootstraps and the American dream

Your participation and insightful guests made for a spirited discussion about themes ranging from power to policy, but really the question was if all kids have an equal shot at an American dream. (Spoiler alert: none of the guests think all kids have an equal shot.)

Listen to parts of the show below. If you want to listen to the whole thing, here you go.

Doak Bloss defined privilege. He talks about it as a ladder. One person might have to work very hard to get up the ladder, but there are others who need to work even harder just because of a group they belong to. 

Bloss said an important thing to remember about privilege is that we all move in an out of it. One  might experience sexism, but have a lot of money and therefor experience class privilege.

Why does it matter? Bloss thinks that if we don't see our privilege it makes it much harder for society to see when a policy will advance equity, or leave lots of people struggling to hang on to Bloss's metaphoric ladder.  


That took us into a conversation with Erin Currier from the Economic Mobility Project at the PEW charitable trusts, and Linwood Cousins, a professor at Western Michigan University. 

Currier cited Pew research that follows real families over time. It shows economic mobility is more difficult than in previous generations. And Cousins talked about how the Great Recession is affecting income inequality and economic mobility. So can those that are at the bottom of the wealth distribution really pull themselves up by their bootstraps? The data Currier looks at, and the neighborhoods Cousins studies appears to say it would be difficult.


So what are we supposed to do? Is there a way the political process can help everyone achieve the American dream? This was the question we posed to David Callahan, Senior Fellow at Demos, and State Rep. Rashida Tlaib.


Callahan and Talib both want to understand how to advance the interests of lower-income Americans, people without a big lobbying presence or lots of campaign contributions to make. The majority of government officials are wealthy, and Talib and Callahan think that is leaving not only lower-income families interests behind but the middle classes as well. Do you agree?