Class Mobility in the United States

George Carlin has a fine line about how it’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it. Yet it’s one of the most pervasive myths that America is the place that will reward hard work and application. One of the ironies of the spread of free market fundamentalism is that with the spread of free markets, it has become increasingly difficult to move up (or down) a class. A fine study a few years ago by David Leonhardt and the New York Times looked at class in America over the past three decades. Do click on the link for more, but see below for two graphs that distill the arguments pretty clearly.

Class Mobility in the United States
Class Mobility in Different Countries

8 Replies to “Class Mobility in the United States”

  1. Sure, these stats argue for the lack of class mobility, but I think they are misleading, as they imply a sort of class struggle as well.

    I feel it is much more important to make sure a significant amount of people do not regress down quintiles and that the wealth gap is not growing. Saying that people are not “moving up quintiles” is not necessarily a bad thing. Consider the hypothetical situation where everyone is getting equally richer while the price level remains stable — the “economic pie is growing”. People would not be moving up the chart, but they are better off then they were in year 0.

    Also, adding Denmark into the equation is misleading as well as they are much more socialized then the other countries listed, so it would make sense that future generations would be better off due to more government handouts.

  2. Sure profits are good, and that is the purpose of business, BUT!!! The profits earned need to distributed wisely, so the workers have a living wage, the business can invest in new technologies, and the greedy CEOs can have some pocket change as well. In order for everyone to survive and move forward in the years ahead, humanity must learn the concept of sharing and leave the selfishness and greed behind.
    The question is not where we are, but what direction we are heading, and with that in mind, tomorrow begins today in making people aware, that the we have two choices to make: “United States of America, Revolution or Evolution”, and reality is that the U.S needs, and must evolve in order to move forward. Selfishness, greed must be replaced by common sense and a concept of fairness and sharing.
    I am not against making profits, and I am sure I will be called all kinds of anti-American or Socialist, but lets face reality, do the CEOs really need, let’s say a figure, $t10 million dollars a year in salary? Can they not live on $5 million a year and put the rest back into payroll and create a living wage?

  3. And lets not forget the part before that where George said: “They don’t give a F… about you – AT ALL – AT ALL – AT ALL!” Of course, if this is true the question is who “they” are. Being asleep and buying into the dream is one thing, but being awake and selling the dream is quite another. Selfishness and greed may play a part in both populations, but a big part of waking up is realizing there is such a distinction. If everyone has the potential to be kinder and share more that would be one thing, but that strikes me as just another product of a rather naive dream.

  4. Really? I suppose my question would be “how often?” Just how often do dreams become reality, I mean, really? Or rather a better question would be how do dreams become reality, it is not just having a dream is it? Positive thinking alone strikes me as rather like learned helplessness, and it would be functionally equivalent if one were to do nothing more than hold the belief/dream without actually doing anything.

    And lets not forget the original context is The American Dream. Sure it may be possible for some, and yes some have in fact realized it – but at what cost, or at whose expense? Since it is a democratic ideal, if only some have achieved it then *we* really have not achieved it, and as is the case with many pyramid schemes it only benefits a few on top. Even if everyone in America was to achieve this dream, are we willing to exploit others in the third world to do it? Are we to understand that only all men in America are created equal?

  5. …it may be naive,but in my experience dreams become reality by the process of SHARING them!Some how we have invoke sharing in our lives personally as ultimately “we” are the dreaded “they”.It is time for a new “American Dream” that includes All.

  6. Sharing the vision is certainly an important first step, but unless we’re going to just dream together we have to have more in common. I actually agree that *ultimately* we are the they, on more than one level but we’re nowhere near that realization as a collective. It’d be nice to just see the human race together in the “all,” which will certainly take a fair bit of work, but in my view it doesn’t even end there if it’s about life itself. If anything I say lets do collaborative dreaming, that can lead to something more specific like a road map. Sharing should be a foregone conclusion if we’re to actually work together.

  7. Interesting with the sharing/greed components to pick up the extensive studies around the Ultimatum Game and how basic fairness is in human awareness and perception. Most children don’t have to be taught to use the “but it’s not fair!” argument. So perhaps the question is how are we being manipulated to NOT behave in fair, human ways? What choices are we convinced we must make in the small, seemingly insignificant patterns that grow into larger impacts that contribute the acceptance of fairness is not necessary or important. There seems to be underlying dishonesty when you compare the messages with the research.

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