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Harvard Study Finds Economic Mobility Hasn't Changed in 50 Years

By Sandy Fitzgerald   |   Thursday, 23 Jan 2014 01:19 PM

Climbing the economic ladder these days is as difficult as it was 50 years ago even though social changes and programs  have brought better career and education opportunities.

For poor children, that means they are just as likely as their parents and grandparents before them to remain poor as adults, according to a new Harvard study cited by The Washington Post.

Even though expanded social programs may have brought some advances in opportunity, the study found that those have been offset by economic changes. For example, traditional middle-income jobs have been replaced in many cases by technological advances, the study noted.

"It is not true that mobility itself is getting lower," said Harvard economist and mobility scholar Lawrence Katz, who reviewed the Harvard study's findings. "What's really changed is the consequences of it. Because there's so much inequality, people born near the bottom tend to stay near the bottom, and that's much more consequential than it was 50 years ago."

But while the country struggles through the recession and the decline of the middle class, many politicians still insist that mobility is getting worse, a claim that the Harvard study says is not true.

The researchers led by Harvard's Raj Chetty examined records for parents of a certain age and for their children who have reached adulthood. They determined that "measures of social mobility have remained remarkably stable over the second half of the twentieth century in the United States.”

The research surprised Chetty.

"I am really struck by how stable it seems to be," he told the Post. "I would not have expected that, because many things have changed over time.

Still, the Post noted that the study also found that the "American dream" of starting poor and climbing into wealth is not happening as much in the United States now as it does in other countries, like Canada or Denmark.

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Climbing the economic ladder these days is as difficult as it was 50 years ago even though social movements and changes have brought better career and education opportunities.

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