Inequality From Birth in the United States

Fifteen Biggest Lies About the EconomyNow the idea that “dependency” is what makes people poor might make some sense if we were all born with the same opportunities to get ahead. Tragically, however, that American dream is dead, or, at the very least, it lies broken and bleeding on the side of the road. In today’s economy, the single greatest predictor of how much an American child will earn in the future is how much his or her parents take home. Working Americans have essentially bought into a unique social contract: they forgo much of the economic security that citizens of other wealthy countries take for granted in exchange for a more “dynamic,” meritorious economy that supposedly offers them plenty of opportunities to succeed. Of course, this is never explicitly stated, and most of us don’t know about the deal, but it’s reinforced all the time in our economic discourse…

When the Brookings Institution’s Isabel Sawhill and John Morton looked at four generations of income data for men alone, they came up with a very different picture. They compared men ages thirty to thirty-nine in 1994 with their fathers at the same point in their careers and found that median incomes had increased by only 0.2 percent annually during the last three decades. But, they noted, “the story changes for a younger cohort.” Men in their thirties in 2004 had a median income that was, on average, 12 percent less than that of their father’ generation at the same age. The scholars concluded, “The up-escalator that has historically ensured that each generation would do better than the last may not be working very well.” …

Isabel Sawhill looked at the relationship between education and mobility and concluded, “At virtually every level, education in America tends to perpetuate rather than compensate for existing inequalities…

Ultimately, the take-away from the decline in American upward mobility is that the existence of a middle class is not a natural phenonenon. It was created by providing good-quality public education, mandating minimum wages, and guaranteeing working people the right to organize.

Conservatives have spent the last three decades unraveling those kinds of protections—all have been subjected to death “by a thousand small cuts” since Reaganomics hit the United States. As a result, it has once again become true that the accident of one’s birth dictates one’s life chances to a very large degree, and that is a wholly predictable result of the rise of the conservative backlash.

—Joshua Holland
The Fifteen Biggest Lies About the Economy

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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