One virtue in this country has always been our social mobility — that poor people can grow up to be rich people by dint of hard work. But that virtue may be sliding into vice, says New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof
"We like to boast of America as the land of opportunity, and historically there is truth to that," he writes. "Yet I fear that by 2015 we’ve become the socially rigid society our forebears fled, replicating the barriers and class gaps that drove them away."
Various studies show that Canada and many European countries have more social mobility than we do. A recent Pew Research Center study found that a child born in the bottom 20 percent of the United States by income has only a 4 percent chance to climb to the top 20 percent.
The lack of opportunity for the poor is particularly distressing at time when 22 percent of Americans live in poverty, up from 18 percent at the onset of the financial crisis in 2008, Kristof says.
Meanwhile, James Pethokoukis, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, says Democrats are overstating the woes of the middle class.
The Democrats' line goes like this, he writes in The Week
: "America's three-decade, free-market experiment of tax cuts and deregulation was a failure for the middle class."
But the evidence doesn't back up that claim, Pethokoukis says.
The pessimists point to Census Bureau data showing that real median income climbed only about 10 percent from the mid-1980s through 2013.
But, "that data paints an incomplete picture," Pethokoukis says. A recent University of Chicago poll of economists
showed that 70 percent believe the Census numbers "substantially understate how much better off people in the median American household are now economically, compared with 35 years ago."
Harvard economist Martin Feldstein
says the Census numbers don't account for shrinking household size, the increase of government transfers and tax reform. They also may overstate inflation.
When the Congressional Budget Office included those factors, it determined that median household income rose 53 percent since 1980.
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