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Economic Mobility

Economic Mobility

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Published by: tpmdocs on Oct 26, 2011
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ith the convergence of a presidential election cycle, income inequalities last seen nearly a century ago,and emerging new data on the state of mobility in America, the present moment provides a uniqueopportunity to refocus attention and debate on the question of economic mobility and the American Dream.
This report is a product of the Economic Mobility Project.The primary authors of the report were Isabel Sawhill,Ph.D., Senior Fellow 
at The Brookings Institution, and John E. Morton, Director of the Economic Mobility Project at The Pew Charitable Trusts.Extensive research support was provided by a team of Brookings Institution scholars led by Julia Isaacs. Othercontributors at Brookings included Ron Haskins, Jeff Tebbs and Emily Roessel. Additional research andediting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trustsstaff members Scott Scrivner, Ianna Kachoris, MonaMiller, Jeremy Ratner and Jessica Arnett. All Economic Mobility Project materials are reviewed by members of the Principals’ Group, and guided with inputof the project’s Advisory Board (see back cover). The viewsexpressed in this report represent those of the authors andnot necessarily of all individuals acknowledged above.
The report was designed by Michael Molanphy of  Varadero Communications, Inc.
The Economic Mobility Project is a unique non-partisan collaborative effort of The Pew CharitableTrusts and respected thinkers from four leading policy institutes — The American Enterprise Institute,The Brookings Institution, The Heritage Foundationand The Urban Institute. While as individuals they may not necessarily agree on the solutions or policy prescriptions for action, each believes that eco-nomic mobility plays a central role in defining the American experience and that more attention mustbe paid to understanding the status and health of the American Dream.In the months to come, the project will develop new findings, tackle difficult questions such as the role of education, race, gender, and immigration in mobility,and analyze the effects of wealth accumulation andthe extent to which short-run fluctuations in incomemay be affecting mobility. Our purpose is to provokea more rigorous discussion about the role and strengthof economic mobility in American society.
Economic Mobility Project
Recent studies suggest that thereis less economic mobility in theUnited States than has long beenpresumed. The last thirty yearshas seen a considerable drop-off inmedian household income growthcompared to earlier generations. And, by some measurements, weare actually a less mobile society than many other nations, includ-ing Canada, France, Germany andmost Scandinavian countries. Thischallenges the notion of America asthe land of opportunity.Despite these potentially troublingfindings, the current national eco-nomic debate remains focused too narrowly on theissue of inequality, leaving aside the more importantcore question of whether the foundation of opportu-nity, economic mobility, remains intact. As FederalReserve chairman Ben Bernanke recently noted:
 Although we Americans strive to provide equality of  economic opportunity, we do not guarantee equality of economic outcomes, nor should we. Indeed, without the possibility of unequal outcomes tied to differences in effort and skill, the economic incentive for productive behavior would be eliminated, and our market-based economy — which encourages productive activity  primarily through the promise of   financial reward — would function  far less effectively.
 Why should Americans care abouteconomic mobility? How shouldcitizens and policy makers alikeunderstand economic mobility? Thisreport addresses these questions inthe same way Americans think abouttheir lives and imagine the futurefor their children: it looks at how afamily’s standard of living improvesfrom one generation to the next.Further, it asks whether a rising tideof economic growth lifts all ships, whether individual effort and talentallow a particular family’s boat to move ahead of others inthe fleet, or whether there is some combination of both.This report also discusses the implications of new analysis showing that the strength of America’s risingeconomic tide has not benefited significant segments of our citizenry. Gone are the days when a stable, singleincome was enough to launch the next generationtoward growing prosperity. In modern America, upwardmobility is increasingly a family enterprise. And duringa time of rapidly shifting household structure, this hassignificant repercussions for the economic mobility prospects of millions of Americans.
Is the American Dream Alive and Well?
or more than two centuries, economic opportunity and the prospect of upwardmobility have formed the bedrock upon which the American story has beenanchored — inspiring people in distant lands to seek our shores and sustaining theunwavering optimism of Americans at home. From the hopes of the earliest settlersto the aspirations of today’s diverse population, the American Dream unites us in acommon quest for individual and national success. But new data suggest that thisonce solid ground may well be shifting. This raises provocative questions about thecontinuing ability of all Americans to move up the economic ladder and calls intoquestion whether the American economic meritocracy is still alive and well.
Economic Mobility Project
Economicmobility describesthe ability of people to moveup or downthe economicladder within alifetime or fromone generation tothe next.
Among aristocratic nations... families remain for centuries in the same condition.... Among democratic nations, new families are constantly springing up, others are constantly falling away, and all that remain change their condition.” 
– Alexis de Tocqueville,
Individualism inDemocratic Countries

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