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