Schools are the least economically integrated institution in America

The Economist:

In 1980 roughly 12% of the population lived in places that were especially rich or especially poor. By 2013, one-third did. That made local schools less of a melting pot. Meanwhile colleges became a sorting machine for adults. Low and high-wage workers rarely work in the same sectors. And though some high-paid men used to marry their secretaries, they now wed fellow executives whose paychecks resemble their own. An American in the top income quintile might come across people from different backgrounds at the post office or Starbucks, but they are unlikely to encounter an American from the poorest fifth.

In his book, “Coming Apart”, Charles Murray, a political scientist, argued that over the past several decades, upper- and lower-class white people “have diverged so far in core behaviours and values that they barely recognise their underlying American kinship”. That does not bode well for the worse-off. Drawing on a data set of 70m Facebook accounts, Raj Chetty, an economist at Harvard, and his research team found that people who had friends across the economic strata were more likely to finish high school and earn a better salary; girls were less likely to get pregnant as teens. Those inter-class bonds, they found, are far more predictive of a youngster’s chances of escaping poverty than being a member of a civic organisation or volunteering, which previous research identified as drivers of upward mobility.

In theory, Americans ought to encounter each other in public institutions. That a restaurant offering something called “family-style Italian dining” should do a better job might have surprised Andrew Carnegie, who funded 1,700 “palaces for the people” (as he called public libraries) in America, or Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed New York City’s Central Park as a space for rich and poor to congregate.

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