Wonkbook: The worst thing poor whites are inheriting could be a lack of hope

By Ana Swanson Inequality between the rich and poor in the … | Sponsored by Morgan Stanley
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Street scene in the battered city of Clairton, Pennsylvania. The town has suffered many job losses in the steel industry.
(Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post) By Ana Swanson Inequality between the rich and poor in the United States is not just about the dollars and cents in people’s bank accounts. Sometimes, the more powerful factor in people’s futures is not how much money they grew up with, but the expectations they were taught to have. Carol Graham, a scholar at the Brookings Institution who studies happiness and well-being, argues that inequality shapes people’s hopes and beliefs about the future, and that those perceptions are passed down to future generations just as surely as an inheritance would be. Today, sixty-two percent of Americans think their children will be worse off than they are. In a new book, “Happiness for All? Unequal Lives and Hopes in Pursuit of the American Dream,” Graham argues that people’s hopes about the future often end up being self-fulfilling. Those who believe in their future are more likely to invest in it. For poor people with little time and money to spend on building a better future, hope and optimism are even more important. Graham is one of a few scholars who have traced the effects of a dramatic increase in inequality between the rich and the poor in America. But unlike others — like economist Anne Case and Nobel Prize-winner Angus Deaton, who famously noted the correlation between inequality and opioid overdoses, suicides and other “deaths of despair” — she has focused on the role of hope and optimism. Read the rest on Wonkblog.

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