No. The statistics are clear. The ability to change class to move upward is very, very limited. Most people on average and most commonly will make about the same money as their parents.
Why are we in this situation? Well, education is no longer a likely venue to higher income. The privileged have access to Ivy League schools and privately educate their children from the nursery to college. Currently we have what is essentially two education systems in the United States, one for the upper class and public education for everyone else. God help anyone self-educated like Abraham Lincoln. People like that aren’t even in the ball game.
What else? Well there’s hiring practices. The upper middle class reassured by such books as “Emotional Intelligence” hire on the basis of comfort. And comfort by and large means hiring your own social class. It diminishes the importance of ability and makes skilled work annoying to others.
Contacts are another critical factor. I’ve heard many people say, “It’s not what you can do, it’s who you know.” I don’t think that knowing the plant manager is that big a deal down in the lower class where I dwell. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about access to Congressmen and Governors. I’m talking about the heads of corporations and the deans of business schools. I’m talking about knowing the players in the financial sector, of knowing where the levers are when it comes to getting loans, jobs and influence. Those are the contacts that make a difference.
Tell me, what’s all A’s at state U, compared to Harvard or Georgetown? What is raw ability when you don’t golf, wear the right clothes or speak the language of the upper class? What is your chance of moving up in the world when maybe you know a state representative and the other guy has a letter from the White House?
We can do better.
Ability should be the measure of success. Social class shouldn’t be a burden borne only by the workers. The cozy club atmosphere of the privileged should be open to all comers.
Here is the article title and a paragraph explaining the numbers behind my claims.
The Rise and Consequences of Inequality in the United States
Alan B. Krueger
Chairman, Council of Economic Advisers
January 12, 2012
More research has been done on intergenerational income mobility. Studies find that your
parent’s income is a good predictor of your subsequent income. Studies that use income data
averaged over longer periods of time for parents and children tend to find higher correlations
between parental and children’s income. A reasonable summary is that the correlation between
parents’ and their children’s income is around 0.50. This is remarkably similar to the correlation
that Sir Francis Galton found between parents’ height and their children’s height over 100 years
ago. This fact helps to put in context what a correlation of 0.50 implies. The chance of a person
who was born to a family in the bottom 10 percent of the income distribution rising to the top 10
percent as an adult is about the same as the chance that a dad who is 5’6” tall having a son who
grows up to be over 6’1” tall. It happens, but not often.
- White House’s Krueger Warns of Shrinking Middle Class (blogs.wsj.com)
- Obama Administration Chief Economist: Talking About Income Inequality Is Not ‘An Issue About Envy At All’ (thinkprogress.org)
- The Rise and Consequences of Inequality in the United States: charts (slideshare.net)
- Income, Parental Education Linked To Pre-School Learning Gaps (huffingtonpost.com)
- Poverty And School Performance (thinkprogress.org)
- Scott Winship on mobility in America (marginalrevolution.com)
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