Equality in America and the Myth of Social Immobility

Living the American Dream… Unfortunately not everyone has equal access to achieving the dream. In some ways there is a social necessity for keeping people at the bottom. Not everyone can have the high paying jobs, and anyone who falls down the ladder will be more distraught than people who grew up in that social position. So unless everyone can move up the ladder, would it be better to keep some people at the bottom? I believe in the US we have enough money and knowledge to provide basic needs for all. And we should strive to improve upon that standard. But we absolutely need to know how to maintain that standard and avoid falling back. Winning $100 is great, but losing $100 hurts much worse.

The McLean Parlor

wealth and inequality

In The New York Times’ series on inequality in America, Columbia professor and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz recently argued that measurable social mobility in America is incongruent with the often ascribed “land of opportunity” label.  Stiglitz did reference data from a reputable source (The Brookings Institution) to draw his conclusions, but his interpretation of said data is perplexing.

According to Stiglitz, “only 58 percent of Americans born into the bottom fifth of income earners move out of that category, and just 6 percent born into the bottom fifth move into the top.”

The word “only” in that statement is an interesting rhetorical choice. I don’t know exactly what percentage of America’s poorest children the professor thinks should be moving out of the untouchable caste, but 58% seems pretty good. And while 6% seems rather paltry when I pay sales tax on a Burger King Whopper, the fact that 6 out…

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