Friday, September 9, 2011

Welcome to the New America, Land of Downward Mobility

A new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts (.pdf warning) points to a disturbing new reality in the US - instead of the Land of Opportunity (TM), the US is slowly turning into the Land of Anti-Opportunity (I hope we don't TM this). Or, to put it into horribly cliched terms, people are waking up from the American Dream to find themselves living in the American Nightmare.

According to a variety of different metrics of downward mobility, US citizens who grew up in a middle class family are increasingly likely to fall out of the middle class and/or enjoy lower standards of living than their parents did:

Not surprisingly, white men are the least likely to experience downward mobility, while blacks are the most likely:

Other findings include:

  • Unmarried or divorced women are much more likely to be downwardly mobile than married women; unmarried and divorced men lose less ground in comparison with married men.
  • Education levels make a difference in exactly the ways you'd expect. Also hard drug use.
  • White, black and Hispanic women are equally likely to experience downward mobility out of the middle class, but 38 percent of black men fall out, compared with 21 percent of white men. Hispanic men also appear more likely than white men to fall from the middle as adults, but the difference is not statistically significant.
  • Differences in average test scores are the most important observable racial difference in accounting for the large downward mobility gap between black men and white men, but none of the factors examined in the report sheds light on the gap between white men and white women.
As Daily Kos notes:
Because this report focuses most on percentiles—how people are doing relative to their peers—it doesn't speak to growing income inequality and middle-class wage stagnation. Rather, it gives us another angle onto how factors like race, gender and marital status contribute to downward mobility, or protect people from it.
Depressing stuff, though I fear that our politicians don't have the guts (or desire, for that matter) to tackle this problem. So, what can We the People do?


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