Stuck in Place: Who is Surprised at the Lack of Mobility?

New Orleans    The lack of social mobility has finally gotten so bad that it seems even Republicans have noticed it.  Horatio Alger and the “rags to riches” trajectory of the American dream are dead.  The new narrative is best expressed as “rags to rags, and riches to riches.”

            According to a Jason DeParle piece in the New York Times, there is essentially no longer an argument about whether or not this is the case.  The lack of social mobility is now a settled question, joined at the hip to the huge inequality that has now emerged in the country.

“At least five large studies in recent years have found the United States to be less mobile than comparable nations. A project led by Markus Jantti, an economist at a Swedish university, found that 42 percent of American men raised in the bottom fifth of incomes stay there as adults. That shows a level of persistent disadvantage much higher than in Denmark (25 percent) and Britain (30 percent) — a country famous for its class constraints.

Meanwhile, just 8 percent of American men at the bottom rose to the top fifth. That compares with 12 percent of the British and 14 percent of the Danes.

Despite frequent references to the United States as a classless society, about 62 percent of Americans (male and female) raised in the top fifth of incomes stay in the top two-fifths, according to research by the Economic Mobility Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts. Similarly, 65 percent born in the bottom fifth stay in the bottom two-fifths.

By emphasizing the influence of family background, the studies not only challenge American identity but speak to the debate about inequality. While liberals often complain that the United States has unusually large income gaps, many conservatives have argued that the system is fair because mobility is especially high, too: everyone can climb the ladder. Now the evidence suggests that America is not only less equal, but also less mobile.”

            It now turns out that when the Brits and other EUers turn their noses up, it’s largely for a better view of how much more rigid our class structure has become.

            Among the many reasons cited are the structural intensity of poverty and the concrete ceiling crushing the poor from cradle to grace under the weight.  Another one mentioned was the high cost of education and the rigid class structure that has increasingly segregated the elite, which gives huge advantages to family resources and connections.

            What seemed clear from the article was not only has the lack of social mobility become so obvious that Republicans from Rick Santorum to Paul Ryan are having to concede the issue, but there is clearly no program or plan to correct this problem in any meaningful way.

            Rags to rags and riches to riches:  get used to it.

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