Do you dislike the rich? Do you resent them? Or are you one of those folks who want to join them?
You've probably answered yes to some or all of those at various times; perhaps even at the same time. If not, good news! You may already be rich.
And yet, although politicians right now are trying to convince us that raising taxes on rich people is the smart thing to do, this is a country that isn't likely to be totally sincere in its hatred for people of means. To put it simply, many of us think we have a chance to get there. As Newsweek's Jerry Adler wrote last year, "People who expect to join a country club someday are, obviously, less likely to want to burn it down now."
A new report from the Utah Foundation, an independent research group, found that upward and, yes, downward mobility are alive and well in the Beehive State. If you're poor today, you could very well be better off in the future. And if you're rich today, beware. It might not last.
The foundation measured this in different ways. First, researchers looked at the income data of Utahns from 1994 to 2007 (the effects of the Great Recession would have skewed the data if they had used more recent years). They also eliminated the youngest adults and retirees. Then, they divided income into five ranges and looked at whether people moved from one range to another over time.
It turns out about 77 percent of taxpayers who were in the lowest income range in 1994 had moved up to a higher range by 2007. Nearly a quarter moved all the way from the lowest range to the second highest, and 11 percent made it from lowest to highest. Meanwhile, 65 percent of the people in the top 1 percent of earners in 1994 had moved down by 2007, although 87 percent of them didn't move down very far.
But researchers weren't satisfied with that measure, because new earners and immigrants are constantly entering the workforce and might have influenced the results. So they looked at the data again and measured how folks changed in relation to only the other taxpayers in 1994.
The results were still impressive. Of the lowest earners in 1994, 53 percent had moved into a higher range by 2007, 27 percent moved up two or more ranges, 26 percent went from the last to the second highest and 5 percent went from the lowest to the highest. About a third of middle-income earners moved up, and about the same percentage moved down.
But then researchers realized these figures could be misleading because someone near the top or bottom of a range could move just a little bit and be counted the same as someone whose income changed a lot. So they looked at only real income changes. They found that people who earned the least in 1994 had the largest percentage increase by 2007.
Finally, they looked at changes in both relative and absolute terms. By this measure, one-third of Utahns are considered upwardly mobile.
That is "a decent amount of mobility," said foundation president Stephen Kroes. Of course, the lower someone starts on the income scale, the harder it is to move up. The study refers to other research that shows the biggest factor seems to be whether one has a college education.
But it is possible, and not even terribly unusual, to go from poor to rich.
"The rich" seem to take a beating during bad economic times. Maybe that's because recessions give a lot of folks at least a temporary push downward.
That certainly was the case during the Great Depression. In 1932, Congress and President Herbert Hoover raised the highest marginal income tax rate from 25 percent to 63 percent. The Wall Street Journal predicted this would lead to another round of "liquidation and credit contraction" that would hurt the poor.
We know now this was right. Why on earth would the nation today want to repeat even part of that merely out of resentment?