Opportunity Gap Informational Resources

Over the past few years, there has been growing public awareness about the widening opportunity gap that exists in so many U.S. communities. As part of our work to address this gap in Vermont, we have compiled informational resources that include: websitesresearch and reportsarticles and op-edsaudio and video, and books that point to why this is one of the most pressing issues facing our society today.

Websites

The Equality of Opportunity Project

"Our mission is to develop scalable policy solutions that will empower families to rise out of poverty and achieve better life outcomes. We aim to achieve this mission by harnessing the power of big data to learn from areas where the American Dream is still thriving."

Community Foundation Opportunity Network

"Community Foundations Opportunity Network is a national leadership and action network of community foundations committed to narrowing the youth opportunity gap. Participating foundations serve communities with a spectrum of geographic, demographic, racial, and socioeconomic diversity."


Research and Reports

Women, Work, and Child Care

Source: Let's Grow Kids and Vermont Commission on Women
A white paper on the intersection of child care, the economy and gender equity in Vermont

 

Closing the Opportunity Gap - 2016 Working Group Report

Source: The Saguaro Seminar
“The American Dream is evaporating for over 25 million children born in the last generation. It’s economically wasteful, destabilizing to our democracy, and morally unjust.”

 

Looking for Progress in America's Smaller Legacy Cities: A Report for Place-based Funders

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago
"Place-based funders can play an important role in connecting economic growth to economic opportunity. This paper describes a study tour undertaken by representatives from four Federal Reserve Banks and more than two dozen place-based funders, under the auspices of the Funders’ Network-Federal Reserve Philanthropy Initiative."

 

State of Working Vermont 2017

Source: Public Assets Institute
"How are Vermont’s workers and their families doing? Economic growth is tepid, but even the modest gains are not making it to most Vermonters’ paychecks. While the share of families struggling financially might not be as large as elsewhere, it continues to creep up. And while the unemployment rate is low, fewer people are working. In other words, Vermonters are doing about as well, or as poorly, as they’ve done for more than a decade."

 

Change The Story Reports

Source: Change The Story
Change The Story has published four reports on topics related to women's economic status in Vermont including: Women, Work and Wages in Vermont; Where Vermont Women Work…and Why It Matters; Women’s Business Ownership and the Vermont Economy; and Vermont Women and Leadership. Read and download the reports.

 

Articles and Op-eds

The Recovery Threw the Middle-Class Dream Under a Benz

Source: Nelson D. Schwartz / NY Times
"Data from the Federal Reserve show that over the last decade and a half, the proportion of family income from wages has dropped from nearly 70 percent to just under 61 percent. It’s an extraordinary shift, driven largely by the investment profits of the very wealthy. In short, the people who possess tradable assets, especially stocks, have enjoyed a recovery that Americans dependent on savings or income from their weekly paycheck have yet to see. Ten years after the financial crisis, getting ahead by going to work every day seems quaint, akin to using the phone book to find a number or renting a video at Blockbuster."/p>

 

The ever-increasing divide between the haves and the have-nots

Source: David Moats / VT Digger
A new aristocracy has taken hold in America. Between the top 0.1 percent and the bottom 90 percent is the top 9.9 percent. They possess more than half of the nation’s wealth, and while others are suffering, they have been doing fine. To qualify as part of this group you must have net wealth of $1.2 million. It is a group that calls itself “middle class” but behaves the way aristocracies do, guarding and preserving its privileges at the expense of those below them.

 

Why the Wealth Gap Hits Families the Hardest

Source: Christina Gibson-Davis and Christine Percheski / New York Times
“What does economic inequality really look like? Income alone doesn’t give a complete picture. Income inequality describes the gap between a six-figure salary and minimum wage. But the more alarming gap occurs in wealth — a household’s total assets minus debts. To understand how inequality is playing out in the United States, we need to look more closely at the wealth gap.”

 

Why Are Our Most Important Teachers Paid the Least?

Source: Jeneen Interlandi / New York Times
“Preschool is often thought of as mere babysitting. But a growing body of research suggests that when done right, it can be much more than that. An effective early-education program can level the playing field for low-income black and Hispanic students relative to their white or wealthier counterparts, so much so that gaps in language comprehension and numeracy can often disappear by the start of kindergarten. And according to at least two longitudinal studies, the very best programs can produce effects that reach far beyond those early years, increasing the rates of high-school completion and college attendance among participants and reducing the incidence of teenage parenthood, welfare dependence and arrests.”

 

The large parts of America left behind by today's economy

Source: Kim Hart / Axios
“Economic prosperity is concentrated in America's elite zip codes, but economic stability outside of those communities is rapidly deteriorating.”

 

When College Grads Don’t Come Back Home: New Numbers Show a Widening Urban-Rural Education Divide

Source: Kevin Mahnken / The 74
“Although ambitious youngsters have always been drawn to the bright lights of New York and Los Angeles, the exodus from small towns has accelerated in recent decades as industrial jobs have disappeared and the Great Recession took its toll.”

 

State of Need: How Vermont Tried and Failed to Cut Child Poverty in Half

Source: Paul Heintz / Seven Days
“It's very hard to get ahead when you're getting going at a different starting line in life than others.”

 

Why the Myth of Meritocracy Hurts Kids of Color

Source: Melinda Anderson / The Atlantic
“A new study finds that believing society is fair can lead disadvantaged adolescents to act out and engage in risky behavior.”

 

Why do we think poor people are poor because of their own bad choices?

Source: Maia Szalavitz  / The Guardian
"If an unexpected medical emergency bankrupts you, you view yourself as a victim of bad fortune – while seeing other bankruptcy court clients as spendthrifts. Why?"

 

How Poverty Changes the Brain 

Source: The Atlantic
"When a person lives in poverty, a growing body of research suggests the limbic system is constantly sending fear and stress messages to the prefrontal cortex, which overloads its ability to solve problems, set goals, and complete tasks in the most efficient ways."

 

The 20-year life expectancy gap within the U.S.

Source: Axios
"Public health experts have said our zipcode determines our health more than our genetic code — these findings show just how big the gap is, and that it is widening."

 

Voices From Rural America on Why (or Why Not) to Go to College 

Source: New York Times
"Young people from remote parts of the country face special challenges in furthering their education. Many are low income and first in their families to attend college. Universities can be big and distant, and scary: Are the students smarter? Are their values the same?"

 

How Homeownership Became the Engine of American Inequality

Source: New York Times Magazine
"Because of rising housing costs and stagnant wages, slightly more than half of all poor renting families in the country spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing costs, and at least one in four spends more than 70 percent. Yet America’s national housing policy gives affluent homeowners large benefits; middle-class homeowners, smaller benefits; and most renters, who are disproportionately poor, nothing. It is difficult to think of another social policy that more successfully multiplies America’s inequality in such a sweeping fashion."

 

4 Standout College Application Essays on Work, Money and Class

Source: New York Times
"From the large pile [of college essays admissions essays on work, money, and class] that arrived this spring, these four—about parents, small business, landscapes and the meaning a single object can convey — stood out."

 

Bringing the Dream of an Elite College to Rural Students

Source: New York Times
"Most low-income students rely on their parents for college advice, and many of them end up going to colleges that are less rigorous than they can handle, the research shows... the College Advising Corps places recent graduates in public high schools for two-year stints as full-time college advisers, where they make up for a widespread scarcity of college counselors and bring their own recent experience to bear on the college application process."

 

Why I'm Moving Home

Source: New York Times Op-ed
"In recent months, I’ve frequently found myself in places hit hard by manufacturing job losses, speaking to people affected in various ways. Sometimes, the conversation turns to the conflict people feel between the love of their home and the desire to leave in search of better work."

 

A Road Trip Through Rusting and Rising America

Source: New York Times Op-ed
“The big divide in America is not between the coasts and the interior. It’s between strong communities and weak communities. You can find weak ones along the coast and thriving ones in Appalachia, and vice versa. It’s community, stupid—not geography.”

 

How Can Philanthropy Help the Working Class?

Source: The Chronicle of Philanthropy
"The McKnight [Foundation] effort is also remarkable in light of the common critique of philanthropy as too elite, too arrogant, too focused on cities. Foundation loans to businesses might seem like corporate welfare to some, but they are welcomed in communities wary of charity. More important, perhaps, they have helped build a bridge between a big-city foundation and a small-town working class not typically on the receiving end of philanthropy."

 

UVM Study Links Opioid Abuse to Childhood Emotional Trauma

Source: Vermont Business Magazine
"A study by researchers at the University of Vermont has revealed a link between adult opioid misuse and childhood emotional abuse, a new finding that suggests a rethinking of treatment approaches for opioid abusers. To uncover the link to emotional abuse, the study, published in the current issue of Addictive Behaviors, analyzed and cross referenced the results of a series of psychological tests administered to a sample of 84 individuals with a history of problem opioid use who had also suffered trauma during their lives.

 

What So Many People Don't Get About the U.S. Working Class

Source: Harvard Business Review
Michèle Lamont, in The Dignity of Working Men, also found resentment of professionals—but not of the rich. “[I] can’t knock anyone for succeeding,” a laborer told her. “There’s a lot of people out there who are wealthy and I’m sure they worked darned hard for every cent they have,” chimed in a receiving clerk. Why the difference? ... The dream is not to become upper-middle-class, with its different food, family, and friendship patterns; the dream is to live in your own class milieu, where you feel comfortable — just with more money. “The main thing is to be independent and give your own orders and not have to take them from anybody else,” a machine operator told Lamont. Owning one’s own business — that’s the goal."

 

Disconnected Youth: Out of School and Out of Work in Rural America

Source: The Pew Charitable Trusts
"Large numbers of young people who aren’t in school and don’t have a job used to be a problem that mostly afflicted America’s cities. But the share of “disconnected youth” in rural areas has soared over the past five years, overtaking the rate in urban areas and forcing state and local officials to look for new ways to help young people stay in school and get jobs.Large numbers of young people who aren’t in school and don’t have a job used to be a problem that mostly afflicted America’s cities. But the share of “disconnected youth” in rural areas has soared over the past five years, overtaking the rate in urban areas and forcing state and local officials to look for new ways to help young people stay in school and get jobs."

 

Rural America Is the New 'Inner City' 

Source: Wall Street Journal
"Starting in the 1980s, the nation's basket cases were its urban areas -- where a toxic stew of crime, drugs and suburban flight conspired to make large cities the slowest-growing and most troubled places.Today, however, a Wall Street Journal analysis shows that by many key measures of socioeconomic well-being, those charts have flipped. In terms of poverty, college attainment, teenage births, divorce, death rates from heart disease and cancer, reliance on federal disability insurance and male labor-force participation, rural counties now rank the worst among the four major U.S. population groupings (the others are big cities, suburbs and medium or small metro areas). In fact, the total rural population -- accounting for births, deaths and migration -- has declined for five straight years." 

 

Rural America Is Stranded in the Dial-Up Age

Source: Wall Street Journal
"In many rural communities, where available broadband speed and capacity barely surpass old-fashioned dial-up connections, residents sacrifice not only their online pastimes but also chances at a better living. In a generation, the travails of small- town America have overtaken the ills of the city, and this technology disconnect is both a cause and a symptom."

 

Podcasts/Radio

Busted: America's Poverty Myths

Source: On The Media, WNYC
"Through the voices of individuals and the complexities of history, On the Media lays open the tales we tell ourselves about poverty."

 

Hunger is Boring

Source: Rumble Strip Vermont
"[Hunger] not getting solved ... All over the country, food shelves and food banks are struggling to keep up with growing numbers of people who need them. In 2014, according to the USDA, 14% of all US households were food insecure. And if the federal government makes more cuts to food programs, that number will certainly grow."

 

Why Is Vermont So Overwhelmingly White?

Source: Brave Little State, VPR
"It may not be a stretch to say that depending on where in Vermont you live, it’s possible that you also haven’t seen a person of color in a couple months. As of the 2010 Census, this state was 95.3 percent white, one of the whitest states in the country."

 

Learning the Trade

Source: Rumble Strip Vermont
"The Northeast Kingdom is mostly small towns separated by miles and miles. Sometimes it’s featured in trout fishing magazines. It also has some of the highest unemployment and lowest wages in the state. It's a beautiful place. And it’s a hard place to live." This podcast explores the Career and Technicnal Education program (CTE) at St. Johnsbury Academy and how the school is trying to help solve the challenges associated with living in this rural area.

 

Video

Face to Face Interview with Dr. Donna Beegle 

Source: PBS
"Poverty expert Dr. Donna Beegle visits one-on-one with Ellen Robertson Green about poverty, its effect on education and her thoughts on breaking the cycle of poverty to lead productive lives in our communities."

 

Books

Dream Hoarders

by Richard V. Reeves
"Income is not the only way to measure a society, but in a market economy it is crucial because access to money generally determines who gets the best quality education, housing, health care, and other necessary goods and services. Those at the top of the income ladder are becoming more effective at passing on their status to their children, reducing overall social mobility. The result is not just an economic divide but a fracturing of American society along class lines."

 

Economics for the Common Good

by Jean Tirole
"A passionate manifesto for a world in which economics, far from being a "dismal science," is a positive force for the common good. To show how economics can help us realize the common good, Tirole shares his insights on a broad array of questions affecting our everyday lives and the future of our society, including global warming, unemployment, the post-2008 global financial order, the euro crisis, the digital revolution, innovation, and the proper balance between the free market and regulation."

 

Evicted

by Matthew Desmond
"In Evicted, Harvard sociologist and MacArthur “Genius” Matthew Desmond follows eight families in Milwaukee as they struggle to keep a roof over their heads. Hailed as “wrenching and revelatory” (The Nation), “vivid and unsettling” (New York Review of Books), Evicted transforms our understanding of poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving one of 21st-century America’s most devastating problems. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible."

 

Glass House

by Brian Alexander
"In 1947, Forbes magazine declared Lancaster, Ohio the epitome of the all-American town. Today it is damaged, discouraged, and fighting for its future. In Glass House, journalist Brian Alexander uses the story of one town to show how seeds sown 35 years ago have sprouted to give us Trumpism, inequality, and an eroding national cohesion. The Anchor Hocking Glass Company, once the world’s largest maker of glass tableware, was the base on which Lancaster’s society was built. As Glass House unfolds, bankruptcy looms. With access to the company and its leaders, and Lancaster’s citizens, Alexander shows how financial engineering took hold in the 1980s, accelerated in the 21st Century, and wrecked the company. We follow CEO Sam Solomon, an African-American leading the nearly all-white town’s biggest private employer, as he tries to rescue the company from the New York private equity firm that hired him. Meanwhile, Alexander goes behind the scenes, entwined with the lives of residents as they wrestle with heroin, politics, high-interest lenders, low wage jobs, technology, and the new demands of American life: people like Brian Gossett, the fourth generation to work at Anchor Hocking; Joe Piccolo, first-time director of the annual music festival who discovers the town relies on him, and it, for salvation; Jason Roach, who police believed may have been Lancaster’s biggest drug dealer; and Eric Brown, a local football hero-turned-cop who comes to realize that he can never arrest Lancaster’s real problems."

 

Hillbilly Elegy

by J. D. Vance
"Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck."

 

Janesville: An American Story

by Amy Goldstein
"With intelligence, sympathy, and insight into what connects and divides people in an era of economic upheaval, Amy Goldstein makes one of America’s biggest political issues human. Her reporting takes the reader deep into the lives of autoworkers, educators, bankers, politicians, and job re-trainers to show why it’s so hard in the twenty-first century to recreate a healthy, prosperous working class."

 

One Nation, Underprivileged: Why American Poverty Affects Us All

by Mark Robert Rank
"Despite its enormous wealth, the United States leads the industrialized world in poverty. One Nation, Underprivileged unravels this disturbing paradox by offering a unique and radically different understanding of American poverty. It debunks many of our most common myths about the poor, while at the same time provides a powerful new framework for addressing this enormous social and economic problem. "

 

Strangers in Their Own Land

by Arlie Russell Hochschild
"In Strangers in Their Own Land, the renowned sociologist Arlie Hochschild embarks on a thought-provoking journey from her liberal hometown of Berkeley, California, deep into Louisiana bayou country—a stronghold of the conservative right. As she gets to know people who strongly oppose many of the ideas she famously champions, Hochschild nevertheless finds common ground and quickly warms to the people she meets—among them a Tea Party activist whose town has been swallowed by a sinkhole caused by a drilling accident—people whose concerns are actually ones that all Americans share: the desire for community, the embrace of family, and hopes for their children."

 

Toxic Inequality

by Arlie Russell Hochschild
"Since the Great Recession, most Americans' standard of living has stagnated or declined. Economic inequality is at historic highs. But inequality's impact differs by race; African Americans' net wealth is just a tenth that of white Americans, and over recent decades, white families have accumulated wealth at three times the rate of black families. In our increasingly diverse nation, sociologist Thomas M. Shapiro argues, wealth disparities must be understood in tandem with racial inequities--a dangerous combination he terms 'toxic inequality.'"

 

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America

by Nancy Isenberg
"Surveying political rhetoric and policy, popular literature and scientific theories over four hundred years, Isenberg upends assumptions about America’s supposedly class-free society––where liberty and hard work were meant to ensure real social mobility. Poor whites were central to the rise of the Republican Party in the early nineteenth century, and the Civil War itself was fought over class issues nearly as much as it was fought over slavery. Reconstruction pitted poor white trash against newly freed slaves, which factored in the rise of eugenics–-a widely popular movement embraced by Theodore Roosevelt that targeted poor whites for sterilization. These poor were at the heart of New Deal reforms and LBJ’s Great Society; they haunt us in reality TV shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Duck Dynasty. Marginalized as a class, white trash have always been at or near the center of major political debates over the character of the American identity."

 

The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudiceand Power in a Dual Economy

by Peter Temin
"The United States is becoming a nation of rich and poor, with few families in the middle. In this book, MIT economist Peter Temin offers an illuminating way to look at the vanishing middle class. Temin argues that American history and politics, particularly slavery and its aftermath, play an important part in the widening gap between rich and poor. Temin employs a well- known, simple model of a dual economy to examine the dynamics of the rich/poor divide in America, and outlines ways to work toward greater equality so that America will no longer have one economy for the rich and one for the poor.

"Many poorer Americans live in conditions resembling those of a developing country -- substandard education, dilapidated housing, and few stable employment opportunities. And although almost half of black Americans are poor, most poor people are not black. Conservative white politicians still appeal to the racism of poor white voters to get support for policies that harm low- income people as a whole, casting recipients of social programs as the Other -- black, Latino, not like "us." Politicians also use mass incarceration as a tool to keep black and Latino Americans from participating fully in society. Money goes to a vast entrenched prison system rather than to education. In the dual justice system, the rich pay fines and the poor go to jail."

 

White Working Class

by Joan C. Williams
"Around the world, populist movements are gaining traction among the white working class. Meanwhile, members of the professional elite--journalists, managers, and establishment politicians--are on the outside looking in, left to argue over the reasons. In White Working Class, Joan C. Williams, described as having 'something approaching rock star status' by the New York Times, explains why so much of the elite's analysis of the white working class is misguided, rooted in class cluelessness."

 

If you have additional resources to share with us, please email Zoe Pike with a link.