Working your way from rags to riches was once the American dream. Now it's more like the American fantasy.
Americans now have less upward mobility than Europeans, Canadians and people in other developed countries, reports The New York Times.
It's especially harder than ever for those born at the bottom to work their way up.
Researchers and commentators on both the left and right acknowledge that Americans lack the upward mobility of others, the Times reports. Reasons include the intensity of poverty in the United States that leaves the poorest starting at a lower level and the high cost of education.
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The Times cites a study by a Swedish economist that says 42 percent of American men raised in the lowest fifth of income levels stayed in that bottom stratum as adults. By comparison, the figure was 25 percent for Danes and 30 percent for Brits.
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Only 8 percent of American rose from the bottom fifth to the top fifth. In Denmark, 14 percent did, and 12 percent did in Britain.
Most men (62 percent) born in the top fifth tend to stay there.
The studies, the Times says, call into question assertions from conservatives that income inequality is fair because everyone has the chance to improve their lot.
But others, as the Times notes, point out that the studies measure Americans' relative income mobility – if they are in the same income group as their parents.
If the entire country is wealthier, they will be in same income group even if they have more income than their parents. The studies also don't include immigrants, who are known for their upward mobility within a single generation.
A Pew Economic Mobility Project study shows that two-thirds of 40-year-old Americans are in households with more income than their parents had at that age, reports The National Review Online. And because households are typically smaller now, incomes are used for fewer people.
Although growth of men's incomes has been disappointing, the increase in women's incomes has been robust, the Review notes.
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