The Opportunity Movement

Devoted to closing the Opportunity Divide

Tag Archives: social mobility

Something to Sink Your Teeth Into

I have believed for some time now that rising income inequality poses a long-term threat to our civil society and indeed our democracy.

This is not the most popular view to espouse at dinner parties and can be seen by some as unpatriotic and scaremongering; it doesn’t get a laugh or leave people with inspired visions of a utopian society. From our often inward-looking national perspective, it can be hard to see how the 2005 riots in France or the recent protests in North Africa and the Middle East could ever become reality here in the USA. All were in large part catalyzed by sky-high youth unemployment and a lack of opportunity to climb the economic and social ladder. As Timothy Noah illustrates in his well-written 10 part series, income inequality is only problematic when you combine it with a lack of social mobility.

While I would never sell our country short, it is hard to deny that trends in America are heading in the wrong direction. As Noah explains, income inequality has risen steadily over the last 40 years to the point where “income distribution in the United States is more unequal than in Guyana, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, and roughly on par with Uruguay, Argentina, and Ecuador.”

Similarly, the Brookings Institution / Pew Economic Mobility Project, “Is the American Dream Alive and Well?“, concluded that “children born into a low-income household in the United Kingdom, France, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Canada, and Germany have a better chance of improving their economic situation than those born in the United States.”

Trends often catch us by surprise; it is hard to predict when there will be a backlash, a dot com bubble burst, or a housing crash. But the fact remains that current trends are heading in the wrong direction if one takes history as any useful guide to the future. How we reverse these trends – and who is responsible for reversing them – is a longer discussion. For now, it is worth noting that we are not so far removed from the international news reports we have been watching. If we continue on our current course, we too may reach a breaking point; it may not fall within the timeframe of any one administration, and is likely to be something our children will have to address rather than us. Sorry to be the harbinger of bad news, and I hope the food still tastes OK.

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