This past week, America’s “war on poverty” turned 50 years old.
President Obama marked the anniversary by stating that the war has
not yet been won.
“In the richest nation on Earth, far too many children are still
born into poverty. Far too few have a fair shot to escape it, and
Americans of all races and backgrounds experience wages and incomes
that aren’t rising, making it harder to share in the opportunities
a growing economy provides.”
Obama has made income inequality one of his top concerns. But
what about economic mobility? Is that really getting worse? Not so,
according to Scott
Winship of the Brookings Institute.
“You can be concerned that there’s
not enough [economic] mobility or enough
opportunity, but you don’t have to also believe that things are
Original release date was June 21, 2012 and the original writeup
Despite having a wealth of empirical evidence on his side, it’s
a lonely position. Researchers, writers, and politicians on the
political right (think Charles
Murray in his new book Coming Apart and
former GOP Sen. Rick Santorum) and on the left (Timothy
Noah inThe Great Divergence and President
Barack Obama) are convinced that economic mobility is
In a series of provocative essays in a wide array of outlets,
Winship demonstrates that while income inequality may indeed be
growing (especially at the top end of things), mobility is not
declining. As he wrote earlier this year in an article
at National Review,
Using…two National Longitudinal Survey data sets, I can
compare children born between 1962 and 1964 to children born
between 1980 and 1982, observing their parents’ incomes when they
were 14 to 16 and their own incomes twelve years later when they
were 26 to 28.
In contrast to [President Obama’s and other’s claims] of
declining mobility, I found that upward mobility from poverty to
the middle class rose from 51 percent to 57 percent between the
early-’60s cohorts and the early-’80s ones. Rather than assert that
mobility has increased, I want to simply say – at this stage of my
research (which is ongoing) – that it has not declined.
If I include households that reported negative or no income, the
rise in upward mobility I find is only from 51 percent to 53
percent, which is not a statistically meaningful increase. But the
data provide absolutely no evidence that economic mobility
declined, whereas the president said it had fallen by ten
Winship sat down with Reason’s Nick Gillespie to talk about why
people mistake growth in income inequality for decreases in
economic mobility and how mobility might be increased from where
it’s been for the past 40 or 50 years.
About 5.28 minutes.
Produced by Anthony L. Fisher; camera by Jim Epstein and
from Hit & Run http://reason.com/blog/2014/01/11/reason-tv-economic-mobility-is-alive-and