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Growth, mobility, inequality: Three policy experts write their own State of the Union

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 28 2014 8:40 a.m. MST

The biggest impact of the three, she says, comes from working full-time, but all three are important. “You can’t imagine how many people in bottom third of income are not working at all or only part of the year or part time,” she said. “Many are not working because jobs are not available.

“Single-parent families are a huge part of the reason we have more inequality and low mobility,” she said, adding that she does not see much government can do in this space.

Here Mitchell emphatically agrees. “The poverty rate for those who do those three things is infinitesimally low, almost trivial.”

Sawhill is currently writing a book on poverty and mobility, to be published by Brookings in the fall. “Marriage is on the wane,” she said. “Single parenting is here to stay and is a major cause of poverty and inequality. It’s hard to put the marriage genie back in the bottle, but civic and religious organizations should try to get the message out.”

When it comes to education, the third leg of the stool, Sawhill argues that it's easy to put the blame on schools, but parents and students are equally critical. The education element thus, to some degree, folds back into family structure.

“To get through school with the skills you need, you need to do your homework and you need to have parents who expect you to achieve in school,” she said. “There is an assumption in the U.S. that you don’t have to work hard. Just get that diploma and you can plod along. We are no longer in that world. We are in a world where the kids in other countries are doing much better.”

Email: eschulzke@desnews.com

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