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Opening Arguments

What makes people poor?

It ain't rocket science:

David Autor, an economist at M.I.T. best known for exploring the costs to American workers of automation and trade with China, has recently expanded the scope of his research on unemployment to look at the consequences for men who grow up in a fatherless household.

In a paper published last year, Autor, working in collaboration with a fellow M.I.T. economist, Melanie Wasserman, found that “the labor market trajectory of males in the U.S. has turned downward along four dimensions: skills acquisition; employment rates; occupational stature; and real wage levels.” The trends have been much worse for men than women because “the absence of stable fathers from children’s lives has particularly significant adverse consequences for boys’ psychosocial development and educational achievement.”

Autor and Wasserman cite data showing that “after controlling for a host of individual and family characteristics, growing up in a single-parent home appears to significantly decrease the probability of college attendance for boys, yet has no similar effect for girls.” The authors add that when raised with a nonresidential father, “boys perform less well academically than girls.”

My father smoked, and my mother didn't. My brother and I became smokers. My sister did not. No real deep thinking required to figure that out. I even use the deodarant I do because it's the brand my father used and I grew up smelling it.

Liberals and conservatives of course differ on what to do next, but at least there seems to be a growing consensus on the importantce of fathers and the devastating effects of their abscence. The author of th elinked-to article suggests it might be time to considerthat  left and right opinions of possible approaches as complementary. The kind of synthesis he recommends seems unlikely to be, but at least it's one approach.