A new report is out on economic mobility and the Times slant is that things aren't all that grim... yet, anyway:
Higher Education Gap May Slow Economic Mobility
By Erik Eckholm
The authors of the study, by scholars at the Brookings Institution in Washington and sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts, warned that widening gaps in higher education between rich and poor, whites and minorities, could soon lead to a downturn in opportunities for the poorest families.
The researchers found that Hispanic and black Americans were falling behind whites and Asians in earning college degrees, making it harder for them to enter the middle class or higher.
“A growing difference in education levels between income and racial groups, especially in college degrees, implies that mobility will be lower in the future than it is today,” said Ron Haskins, a former Republican official and welfare expert who wrote the education section of the report.
...The report is at economicmobility.org.
The report is here.
Hmm. The section on intergenerational mobility straddles the issue - most research shows no strong trend but some points to a decline in mobility, we are told.
Since Paul Krugman tackled this very topic a few days back, let's hear from him:
Mainly, however, excuses for poverty involve the assertion that the United States is a land of opportunity, a place where people can start out poor, work hard and become rich.
But the fact of the matter is that Horatio Alger stories are rare, and stories of people trapped by their parents’ poverty are all too common. According to one recent estimate, American children born to parents in the bottom fourth of the income distribution have almost a 50 percent chance of staying there — and almost a two-thirds chance of remaining stuck if they’re black.
"Horatio Alger stories are rare". OK, from the Times today:
There is some good news. The study highlights the powerful role that college can have in helping people change their station in life. Someone born into a family in the lowest fifth of earners who graduates from college has a 19 percent chance of joining the highest fifth of earners in adulthood and a 62 percent chance of joining the middle class or better.
Evidently, if Horatio Alger can rally himself to and through college, success is not so rare. However:
In recent years, 11 percent of children from the poorest families have earned college degrees, compared with 53 percent of children from the top fifth.
My math tells me that if 11percent of bottom-quintile kids go to college and 19 percent of that group end up in the top quintile, we are talking abut 2 percent of all bottom-quintile kids making it to the top. I will grudgingly acknowledge that "rare" is not outrageous in that context.
As to reasons:
Mr. Butler said experts were likely to disagree about the reasons and, hence, on policies to improve mobility. Conservative scholars are more apt to fault cultural norms and the breakdown of families while liberals put more emphasis on the changing structure of the economy and the need for government to provide safety nets and aid for poor families.
“We may well have an economy that rewards certain traits that are typically passed on from parents to children, the importance of education, optimism, a propensity to work hard, entrepreneurship and so on,” he said.
To the extent that the economy rewards those traits, he added, “you’d expect the incomes of children to track more with that of their parents.”