Christopher Jencks

Christopher Jencks is Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. His books include Inequality: A Reassessment of the Effect of Family and Schooling in America and Black-White Test Score Gap. He is a Prospect contributing editor.

Recent Articles

The Graduation Gap

America needs to do a much better job of increasing its college enrollment and graduation rates, especially for less advantaged students.

American higher education, once the envy of the world, is losing its competitive edge. Most of the world's top universities are still located in the United States, but our other great accomplishment, making higher education available to an ever-larger fraction of young people, has succumbed to our hatred of taxes. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, young people in Australia, Britain, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Spain, and Scandinavia, where students and families do not bear such a large share of college costs, are now all more likely to earn a bachelor's degree than are young people in the United States. That is not because American employers no longer want more college graduates.

Welfare Redux

When welfare reform passed in 1996, critics (including all of us) feared a substantial increase in material hardship among single mothers and their children. We were wrong. Six years ago, after reviewing dozens of government surveys, two of us wrote in these pages that the record was neither as grim as critics had feared nor as encouraging as advocates had promised. [See Christopher Jencks and Joe Swingle, “Without a Net,” TAP, January 2000.] The welfare rolls had been cut by almost half, material hardship had declined, and the rise in out-of-wedlock childbearing seemed to have slowed.

Welfare Redux

When welfare reform passed in 1996, critics (including all of us) feared a substantial increase in material hardship among single mothers and their children. We were wrong. Six years ago, after reviewing dozens of government surveys, two of us wrote in these pages that the record was neither as grim as critics had feared nor as encouraging as advocates had promised. [See Christopher Jencks and Joe Swingle, “Without a Net,” TAP, January 2000.] The welfare rolls had been cut by almost half, material hardship had declined, and the rise in out-of-wedlock childbearing seemed to have slowed.

1990: Welfare Then and Now

Well before Bill Clinton pledged to “end welfare as we know it,” the first issue of The American Prospect included a long article by Kathryn Edin and myself [see “The Real Welfare Problem,” Spring 1990] urging liberals to rethink welfare. Our argument rested on two facts. First, both Edin's research and national surveys showed that single mothers seldom survived on welfare alone. Most made ends meet by getting additional money under the table. Second, this was no recent development. Welfare benefits had never been adequate to support a family.

Our Unequal Democracy

When the constitutional convention was held in 1787, one of the participants' major worries was that a democratic government based on majority rule could pose a threat to minorities. They were especially worried that majority rule could encourage a largely landless electorate to expropriate the property of people like themselves. They thus adopted a system of divided government, replete with "checks and balances" and indirect elections, to minimize this risk. But while the Constitution ensures that the federal government will move slowly, it cannot prevent change forever. As the government grew, for example, the Constitution was amended in 1913 to permit an income tax.

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