Shaky Ground

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Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

In the second hour, we're focusing on upward mobility, especially among African Americans. As Gwen wrote in her post, a new Pew survey from 2007 indicates that "45% of African Americans who were born into middle class families during the 1960s are currently doing worse economically than their parents."

The show centers on one question, which we're asking our audience at Morgan State University in Baltimore, and you, listening to the radio, reading this blog:

Will you do better than your parents?

If your parents scrimped and saved to pave the way for you to go to school, to get a good job, to go to grad. school, to get a better job, did it pay off? And parents, if you scrimped and saved to pave the way for your kids to go to school, to get a good job, to go to grad. school, to get a better job, was it worth it? What worked? And what didn't?

John Morton, Managing Director of Economic Policy at the Pew Charitable Trust, will join us, to take us through those numbers Gwen cited. Who is doing well? Who isn't? Why is that? And why is the "American Dream" so elusive for so many people? And we'll hear from Ellis Cose, a contributing editor and columnist for Newsweek.



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I will do better than my parents but only because they were treated to less opportunity.

Sent by Archester Neil | 2:40 PM | 1-31-2008

I am a Belizean American some would like to label me as a hispanic because I am from Central Armerica, and others who look at me would say I am Black, but I always check the other box, because I am multicultural and refuse to label myself as one race. On the Obama issue. I keep hearing that not only is he a black man but he is qualified for the job. I do not believe he is. He just got into the senate hardly spent anytime on that job because of his campaigning to run for president. This country that everyone loves to come is in a lot of trouble. These past 8 years have been horrific. I do not see Obama experience enough to rectify the damage done by Bush. My son who just turn 18 and will be able to vote is very concern about his future. He has a government class where they talk about the election and the candidates. His choice is Edwards, he refuses to give Obama a vote because he does not think he is qualify for that tremendous responsibility. People are looking at history. Here the Dems going again. Last elections it was their Fears, now it is about being "Black". I am now hearing all these negative comments about the Clintons whom blacks once supported heavily. Now because one of theirs is in their voices change. No wonder some Black Americans can ever get anything done. They always sell out. This is about our future, and the future generations. We need someone to put this country back together. I don't see Obama doing it. I get this eery feeling about why he is there. I am supporting Hillary not because she is a woman but because she has leadership ability and EXPERIENCE. Thank you!

Sent by Donna Haylock | 2:42 PM | 1-31-2008

I will do better than my parents. I put myself through school.

No, there should not be MORE reparations for slavery. There is already affirmative action which be ended. Things don't come on a silver has to be earned.

Sent by John Smith | 2:46 PM | 1-31-2008

I grew up in a poverty-striken white family in which education was discouraged. However, I pursued an education to better myself and used that to obtain a challenging job in engineering. Compared to my extended family, I'm doing much better than those who chose not to better themselves.

My real question is this: Do other minority group show the same trends as our African-American friends? I'm thinking of other ethnic groups such as Asian-American or Native American.

Sent by Robert from Portland, Or | 3:09 PM | 1-31-2008

I think that no matter what group you are in it is much more difficult for those of us in our 30's and 20's to afford what our parents did. Education is outrageously expensive and housing in most markets costs a much bigger percentage of our income than it did for our parents. We have to make tough decisions about retirement vs. sending our kids to school when they grow up because most of us can't afford it all, even in the middle class.

Sent by V. Mertlich | 3:12 PM | 1-31-2008

My college professor once told me that unless you at least acquire a bA/BS degree you will be considered a part of the proliteriate. There are less and less African American males attending college...where does that bring us in regard to class? I'm also involved in grass root politics for obama. door to door canvasing. black males are incarcerated at a alarming rate

Sent by Elliott Johnson | 3:26 PM | 1-31-2008

when I came here with my family in 1991, as refugees, we had nothing. We worked our way up to a pretty comfortable life. This is something individuals have to think about and change their lives. If I can do it, anyone can, especially if you have lived your whole life in US. If I started off from zero, anybody can. Stop making excuses, get over the past and get on with your life. I am a kurd and kurds have been oppresed for so many years, but that never stopped them from education or getting better jobs. That only made us stronger.

Sent by chraa | 3:27 PM | 1-31-2008

I have certainly done better than my parents. I took on huge debt to put myself through 8 years of college. My first job out of school earned me far more than my father ever made. My family lives in a mixed race neighborhood and I wish I could say that I see the black kids doing as well as the whites, but they are not. All the black family homes in the neighborhood are owned by grandparents. People who worked hard during the 50's and 60's to get a piece of the pie in the face of adversity. Their children, and especially their grandchildren are not doing remotely as well. Even with access to the same high quality public schools as the white kids in the neighborhood they are dropping out and winding up in jail in droves. The opportunity for a better life is there, but they are not taking it. While there is still obviously racism and inequality in this country, I think there has also been a breakdown within the black community. Broken homes, teenage mothers, and an widespread emulation of the worst elements of their culture, gangstas. Gangsta culture (not all hip-hop culture) elevates the worse traits of the humanity. Violence, misogyny, materialism, a disdain for education and callous indifference to human life. This, coupled with a lack of parenting has produced several generations of kids who are destroying themselves and everything around them.

It is just not as simplistic as blaming music, or drugs, or schools, or racism. It is a complex problem that will require healing an entire community before it can be solved.

Sent by dan stiles | 3:31 PM | 1-31-2008

I am an African American female and have far outpaced my mother.
I am married and my income alone is in the six figures. I was raised by a poor, single parent and that was not indicative of what I have been capable of doing.
I have an undergraduate and graduate degree. I chose to pursue business and I have been doggedly determined to succeed.
Preparedness (education) and drive make all the difference no matter what color you are.

Sent by N Michelle | 3:32 PM | 1-31-2008

What about the influence of OEO and other Johnson Administration anti-poverty programs which helped a generation move into the middle class. It was scoffed at by conservatives, but I think the absence of such assistence in economic and organizational support may also explain the downward momentum of the next generation.

Sent by Gloria Geiser (geyser) | 3:33 PM | 1-31-2008

I think we in the younger generation have a different idea of what success is. I think that the trend is more that we are coming to the decision of what we want to do with our lives at a later age than our parents. How do I know? Well, I'm 24, when my dad was my age he was practicing as a civil engineer for two years already. I'm still in school, but I will be going to medical school next fall. I think our youth afford more time learning about ourselves and figuring out what we want to do.

Sent by ethan | 3:37 PM | 1-31-2008

I grew up around money, in some cases huge money, although my parents were well-off but not rich. Having been downwardly mobile socially (and happily) and relatively poor all my adult life, I find that the greatest advantage of growing up with money is that I'm very hard to impress and I find it very easy to resist advertising. I have never had one penny's debt and never made more than $30,000/year in my life. But I life a comfortable, simple life in a very expensive city (San Francisco). Thus, I feel that the pressure to have the latest "thing" poisons the effort to get ahead for those who weren't raised to resist the lure of materials things.

Sent by polly | 3:37 PM | 1-31-2008

I think the main factor in determining class in America is not solely related to economics, but I feel it's directly related to quality of life issues. Education, networking, and a strong spiritualis the strongest determining factor in the rise from class to class. " My people are destroyed due to a lack of knowledge"

Sent by elliott johnson | 3:37 PM | 1-31-2008

Black Americans may be worse off than white Americans in terms of their prospects for financial success, but this issue affects everyone. I did much better than my parents because the federal government (spurred by the "Sputnik shock" of the Cold War) passed the National Defense Education Act which helped me and millions of other young people to go to college. Half of our debt was cancelled if we chose professions where the need was great. We don't have that commitment today. Our government invests in bullets, bombs, and war---rather than people.

Sent by Shirley | 3:58 PM | 1-31-2008

I am from a middle class family. When I was growing up, the emphasis from our 'segregated schools, was to get an education. The schools and especially guidance C, now are not doing very much to geer these students toward college. My nephew graduates this year, and our family was shocked to know he had not taken SAT! He has a 4.0 and has been accepted in the engineering school at NC State, but he needs the sat. Most of these schools today could care less. That, is the problem. The only help my daughter got was from me, NOT her high school. I am surprised nobody mentioned that!

Sent by Annie Jones | 4:05 PM | 1-31-2008

I Graduated High School in the mid-sixties when you could earn $3.00/hour with no education. Ohio State Univ. tuition cost $100 per quarter, not per credit hour. With a little family support, you could work yourself through college on a summer job and move from lower class to middle class. Kids now can earn $9.00 or three times as much but OSU is about $3,000 or 30 times as much and a home of or your own is 10 times as much. The gap between poor and middle class is so much wider now that bootstrapping yourself up from one to the other is several orders of magnitude more difficult now.

Sent by Jim from Columbus OH | 4:25 PM | 1-31-2008

The first audience member mentioned that it is economically harder for her 23 year old Son than for her. We later learn that she was born in 1968. So her Son was born in 1984 when she was 16. That alone is the elephant in the room. Yet no panel member addresses this obvious factor.

The "Reagan babies" of 1980's are now of age; born often to single, teen age mothers. Too often ill equipped to compete in the high tech world with diminishing blue collar jobs.

Sent by James | 4:53 PM | 2-1-2008

The report compared "household" incomes. But today, a much larger percentage of households have two (or more) income earners than in the 60's. And how are any of these stats meaningful unless presented as a relation between income and cost of living? Jim from Columbus points to increasing college costs that have outstripped wage increases, and housing and medical costs have increased by large margins too. Many also spend much more time commuting than they did in the 60's. These facts reduce the amount of real income earned per work hour. I'm not convinced that these Pew numbers reflect the economic realities. I suspect that many more of us make less real income per hour than our parents did.

Sent by Dario from LA, CA | 8:20 PM | 2-2-2008

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