What we thought we knew about upward mobility in America is wrong
Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press
Despite the widening gap between the country's richest and poorest, economic mobility has remained relatively stagnant in the U.S. for the past 20 years, according to a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
"Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike have expressed alarm over what had been seen as diminishing opportunities for economic advancement through hard work and ingenuity," Associated Press reporter Paul Wiseman reported earlier today.
"Instead, the study found that 9 percent of children born in 1986 to the poorest 20 percent of households were likely to climb into the top 20 percent — little-changed from 8.4 percent for such children born in 1971."
Conclusions based on the bureau's study have varied, but the belief that both major political parties will have to revise their talking points when it comes to economic mobility seems to be a prominent theme.
"The results won't fit neatly into either party's political arguments," The Wall Street Journal's Damian Paletta wrote in response to the study, also adding that "the distinction between economic mobility and income inequality is important at a time when politicians are using the words almost interchangeably."
"The findings also suggest that who your parents are and how much they earn is more consequential for American youths today than ever before," The Washington Post's Jim Tankersley writes. "That’s because the difference between the bottom and the top of the economic ladder has grown much more stark, but climbing the ladder hasn’t gotten any easier."
While writers such as Tankersley and The New York Times' David Leonhardt focused primarily on the study's implications in the debate over income inequality, W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, believes that "of all the factors most predictive of economic mobility in America, one factor clearly stands out in their study: family structure."
In an article for Slate titled, "Family matters," Wilcox argues that "what makes (the study) particularly significant is that this is the first major study showing that rates of single parenthood at the community level are linked to children’s economic opportunities over the course of their lives.
"This is the first study to show that lower-income kids from both single — and married — parent families are more likely to succeed," Wilcox continues, "if they hail from a community with lots of two-parent families."
As Leonhardt suggests in his New York Times piece, no matter what the varying takeaways may be from pundits and politicians, "the study has the potential to alter the way Mr. Obama and other public figures talk about mobility trends."