Vintage: children playing on a worn-out fire truck in Salem, Oregon on Sept. 1, 1966. (AP Photo)
HOST INTRO: Children growing in communities with a high proportion of single mothers is the most important factor in limiting a child’s social mobility. This, according to a Harvard and University of California, Berkeley study. Asabe Vincent-Otiono reports.
President Obama made income inequality one of the themes of his 2012 reelection campaign. The country’s most famous product of a single mother household has continued to make it a priority.
OBAMA: Lack of upward mobility that has jeopardized middle class America’s basic bargain. That if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead . I believe this is the defining challenge of our time.
The study found that kids who grow up in communities with a lot of single mothers are less likely to move up the income ladder. That widens the gap between the rich and poor. It also found correlations between social mobility and income equality, population density and the quality of education in a community. But a low proportion of single mother households was the single strongest indicator of social mobility.
Neil Pollicino works with single parent families. He is the prevention coordinator of The Single Parent Resource Centre in midtown. He thinks INCOME is the biggest influence in social mobility. Part of his job is telling parents that low income doesn’t have to be a hinderance.
POLLICINO: We try to make the parents understand that there are scholarships and loans for the kids. You have to motivate your child to want to do that.
Income is a major factor, according to Ifeoma Ajunwa a doctoral candidate in Sociology at Columbia University.
AJUNWA: For example if someone is low income that affects where they reside. And in the U.S. residential areas have different educational opportunities so schools are better. It’s not a secret.
She has misgivings about this study because not all single parent families are the same.
AJUNWA: Single family can mean for example a 40 year old who is very well off never married, decides to adopt a child.
The study DID NOT find a direct correlation between race and social mobility. But it did find a connection between the proportion of African Americans in a community and low social mobility, which affects white, black, Latinos. Eric Alexander grew up in a community just like that, in a household with a single mother. He thinks there are aspects of African American culture that contribute to low social mobility.
ALEXANDER: The value of education is pretty low in majority black communities. I think it’s been that way for a long time especially amongst our kids. I think it generally ties in with the ‘single parentendness’ of the majority of these households.
Alexander says his family was different and this may have helped him get his present job on Wall Street.
ALEXANDER: Believe it or not I wanted to be a rapper but my mum always preached college. I grew up reading and she made sure she exposed us. She grew up in a two-parent household in upper middle-income neighborhood in Connecticut. She had that experience and so she could pass it down to her children.
Neil Pollicino of the Single Parent Resource Centre says kids’ lives are too complicated to attribute social mobility to any one factor. Rich and Poor kids alike face the same problems.
POLLICINO: There are drugs in all the schools even the private schools so its no longer relegated to ‘the bad neighborhoods or the hood. It’s everywhere.
According to the Equality of Opportunity Project ,which provided that data for the study, New York City is ranked 21st in the U.S for social mobility. Salt Lake City is number one.
I’m Asabe Vincent-Otiono, Columbia Radio News.