In the 1990s, Americans will have to face - and find solutions to - the rapid growth of an underclass, inadequate child care, drug and alcohol abuse and an education system that allows one in four students to drop out.
R. Thayne Robson, director of the Bureau of Economic Development and Research at the University of Utah, pinpointed the four areas of concern during a keynote address Monday to the National Association for State Community Services Programs. The group, comprised of state administrators of the Community Services Block Grant and the Department of Energy's Low-Income Weatherization Assistance programs, is holding its annual conference in Salt Lake through Oct. 19."It takes only marginal changes to do the right thing," Robson said. "First, we have to face up to the fact that we have a growing underclass in America." Since 1975, he said, the middle class has been "squeezed, while the poor get poorer and the rich get richer. Researchers are discovering that social mobility is declining."
Calling the uneducated a "drag" on the system, Robson said that "we decided to improve education, and the result is that one in four students is dropping out. An educated, motivated and developed people are an unlimited resource." The opposite, he said, can also be true.
He charged Americans to take part in fighting drug and alcohol abuse. Abusers, he said, "adopt lifestyles that guarantee failure. It's not just a law enforcement problem. It belongs to all of us."
Robson said that too many children are seriously neglected and need better day care. Only one-sixth of the children in America live in a "traditional" family where the father works and the mother stays home. One-fifth live in poverty. And "there are too may children in single-parent families," he said. "We must guarantee support for child care in single-parent families across the country. Then for all poor families."
Americans like to consume more than they produce and "borrow the difference from foreigners," a practice he said could ultimately be dangerous. "We want to have it all but we don't want to pay for it. We need to decide we can back off from the consumption binge and save."