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There is a crisis looming in America as poor kids in America grow up with limited access to the healthcare habits and resources needed in order to lead productive and healthy lives as adults, according to Robert D. Putnam, PhD, the  Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard.

Putnam, a political scientist known for his books, Bowling Alone and Our Kids, has been consulted and honored by Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama. He recently presented a lecture at the UNM Health Sciences Center entitled, “The Growing Gap between Rich Kids & Poor Kids: How Social Trends Affect the Wellbeing of Kids and Families in America."

Putnam contends there is a growing disparity in income between the rich (defined as “those of us who have college degrees’) and the poor (blue collar workers) affecting a host of family life dynamics and impacting the health of the nation’s children in sometimes surprising ways.

That disparity has been developing during the past 30 years with a with growing segregation by economic class. Poor neighborhoods, led by single-family, white, blue-collar workers, and rich enclaves have both increased during the past three decades as mixed neighborhoods have declined.

“Historically that was not the case," Putnam said. "But today, there are fewer and fewer chances for the members of these classes to meet and interact."

Income segregation and disparities have wrought profound but underappreciated changes to family life, neighborhoods and schools.  Children at the top have benefited from the trends even as those in poor neighborhoods found it ever harder for those below to work their way up and out of poverty.

Putnam offered childhood obesity rates as one example of how income segregation works. In rich neighborhoods, childhood obesity peaked after the turn of this century, while in poor neighborhood obesity rates are continuing to climb.

He offered statistics showing a number of income-driven factors that seem to fuel such dichotomies.  

Kids at rich schools have the funds to participate in after school activities and sports that schools used to offer for free, Putnam said. Dinner time with parents usually leads to better meals and correlates with children having higher incomes as adults.

These disparities affect everyone, Putnam argues.

Children who start out in life with few health resources all too often end up as adults with chronic health conditions and society as a whole foots the bill, paying not only for their health care but also missing out on the value of the contributions they could have made.