Late July might be famous for potato chips and trips to the beach. But it’s also, arguably, the time when America’s inequality, like the hot summer sun, is at its zenith, particularly for our children. Affluent kids are spending their days (and often their nights) at camp, or traveling the world with their families, picking up knowledge, skills, and social connections that will help them to thrive at school and beyond. Needless to say, these are not experiences accessible to their less affluent peers.
As Robert Putnam argued in his landmark book, Our Kids, and again in his recent report, Closing the Opportunity Gap, there is a growing social-class gulf in spending on children’s enrichment and extracurricular activities — things like sports, summer camps, piano lessons, and trips to the zoo. As the upper-middle class grows larger and richer, it is spending extraordinary sums to enhance its kids’ experience and education, while other children must make do with far less. (Putnam got the data for his chart from this study.)