Surprise: Economic Mobility is Alive and Well in America!


"You can be concerned that there's not enough [economic] mobility or enough opportunity, but you don't have to also believe that things are getting worse."

So says Scott Winship of the centrist Brookings Institution.

Despite having a wealth of empirical evidence on his side, it's a lonely position. Researchers, writers, and politicians on the political right (think Charles Murray in his new book Coming Apart and former GOP Sen. Rick Santorum) and on the left (Timothy Noah in The Great Divergence and President Barack Obama) are convinced that economic mobility is shrinking.

In a series of provocative essays in a wide array of outlets, Winship demonstrates that while income inequality may indeed be growing (especially at the top end of things), mobility is not declining. As he wrote earlier this year in an article at National Review,

Using…two National Longitudinal Survey data sets, I can compare children born between 1962 and 1964 to children born between 1980 and 1982, observing their parents' incomes when they were 14 to 16 and their own incomes twelve years later when they were 26 to 28.

In contrast to [President Obama's and other's claims] of declining mobility, I found that upward mobility from poverty to the middle class rose from 51 percent to 57 percent between the early-'60s cohorts and the early-'80s ones. Rather than assert that mobility has increased, I want to simply say — at this stage of my research (which is ongoing) — that it has not declined.

If I include households that reported negative or no income, the rise in upward mobility I find is only from 51 percent to 53 percent, which is not a statistically meaningful increase. But the data provide absolutely no evidence that economic mobility declined, whereas the president said it had fallen by ten percentage points.

Winship sat down with Reason's Nick Gillespie to talk about why people mistake growth in income inequality for decreases in economic mobility and how mobility might be increased from where it's been for the past 40 or 50 years.

About 5.28 minutes.

Produced by Anthony L. Fisher; camera by Jim Epstein and Meredith Bragg.

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  1. …people mistake growth in income inequality for decreases in economic mobility…

    Without economic mobility, there would be no growth in income inequality. The two go hand in hand. Increasing income inequality is the natural result of freedom of opportunity.

    1. Agreed.

      However, for most “Social Justice” types, “opportunity” only exists if everybody gets the same result.

      1. The easiest way to achieve that is to take everything from everyone.

        1. Who said that, as in the theory that, if we took every penny of wealth, put it in a huge pile, and gave everyone the same amount… within a few years, we’d be right back where we started?

          1. I think you did. You know, just now.

            1. No, it was someone else. I can’t remember it word-for-word, but it was a good theory.

              1. Well, I’m citing you from now on. Kind of like how Mark Twain said everything first.

    2. Without economic mobility, there would be no growth in income inequality.

      Not true. These are two different things. You could have decreasing economic mobility and INcreasing income inequality. You could have decreasing economic mobility and DEcreasing income inequality.

      The relative ease with which one can move from one income quintile to another does not cause the relationship between the relative average income levels of each quintile to change.

      For example, you could have one societal change making it much easier to move from poor (the lowest quintile) to not so poor (the second lowest quintile), such as abolishing the minimum wage, and an entirely different societal change (such as an unexpected technological changes that place a greater market value on unskilled labor) making the wage difference between poor and not so poor decrease.

      1. why is “income inequality” a great social concern? That Bill Gates’ net worth is substantially greater than mine hardly means I cannot afford my home, live a good life, and do a lot of cool things. It just means he created something that a mass market rewarded in exponentially greater fashion than my single employer rewards me. Gates’ gains do not come at my expense, and whatever gains I experience likewise do not cost him.

        This inequality thing is a growing talking point of the left, with the clear implication that govt must be marshaled to resolve it. No. When the goal is equality of result, the outcome is defined downward for all.

        1. I love my MP3 player. But the developers of these types of products didn’t make them so that I could plunk down $20 for it. Somebody had to pay $400 first, or it never would have been developed (rounding off a lot of details of course) in the first place.

          If the guy that developed that $400 mp3 player has become richer than Midas (either the king or muffler shop), driving income inequality that much higher, how have I lost? I don’t see him in the Safeway checkout line? I’ll skip seeing his geek ass every so often if I can keep the $20 mp3 with better sound than my home stereo had 30 years ago.

    3. “Income equality” is a made up statistic that says absolutely nothing. If liberals’ concerns were for the poor, their ONLY concern would be whether the poor are getting less poor.

      They are. This is an absolute fact.

      The rich should have NOTHING to do with it.

  2. Oh, yeah, you betcha. It’s Summer of Recovery, Part III. Yup. No question.

    I’m gonna buy a dozen pair of silk underwear, and fart through every one of ’em. AND throw ’em away. Because the economy is just roarin’ great guns with Barry at the helm.

    Is that enough sarcasm? I’ve got plenty.

    1. I’m getting myself plated in gold.

      1. Have your testicles laminated while you’re at it.

          1. Yeah, that sounds good in theory, but how are you gonna empty it?

              1. Matter can’t be completely eradicated by mere heat. Not even with nuclear fire.

                1. So the Permacondom can’t be a reality until we can perfect and total matter-energy conversion, is that what you’re telling me?

                  1. So the Permacondom can’t be a reality until we can perfect and total matter-energy conversion, is that what you’re telling me?

                    Think of those systems in dune which you breathed into that recycled water, except on your penis.

                    1. Stilcondoms? Recycling sperm for later use?

      2. After you do that, go for a swim. Over the Marianas trench.

        1. I suppose that’s a small flaw in my plan.

          1. Don’t listen to him. Think of the possiblities!

            1. True, it’s not like I have to go swimming or for walks on frozen lakes.

  3. Centrist? I thought the Brookings Institution was a liberal outfit? Politico and Breitbart have both labelled it as such before. (Breitbart did it today)…..40110.html…..-Institute

    1. Well, if George Bush was a far-right conservative who eliminated all regulations and pushed laissez-faire economic policies down our throats, then Brookings is Centrist.

      It depends on what world one lives in. Since this isn’t DailyKos, I’d say that Brookings is on the left.

      Wait… This isn’t DKos is it?

    2. Brookings is left of center, but its not crazy left. They actually can put out some legit work.

  4. I’m in the future, watching the Czechs (hopefully) beat Portugal and drinking copious amounts of wine.

    Suck it bitches.

    1. Speaking of drinking and its inevitable aftermath, I’ve been thinking about how to market the mobile bathroom. I’m thinking that the truck should have that Belgian statue of the kid peeing (Manneken Pis) on the top, and the company would be called Piss Boy, like the old Big Boy chain.

      1. Does this help at all.

        1. Mmmm. Well, I suppose you could use something like that, maybe if people only owned the passenger/cargo compartment of cars, with the chassis and motor being owned by the manufacturers. That way, you just swap out chassis between stops.

            1. I saw your comment in the other thread and shall repost my response:

              Huh. What kind of payload capacity does a drone have? Could it deliver pizzas? Even without the highway option, having drones deliver pizza would save thousands of lives a year.

    2. Maybe Ronaldo will do his disappearing act again. Otherwise, you might be looking at a repeat of the Russia game.

      1. Oh fuck, that asshole just scored at 79 minutes.

        1. It was a pretty decent header, actually. Still, fuck him.

          1. 1-0 with some pretty deplorable reffing and wonderful acting.

          1. Thanks BP. I’m now going to go back to not caring about football unless/until the US (or the Czechs) manage to punch above their weight in 2014.

    3. Portugal ganh?, filho da puta.

  5. If Winship is right, I’m actually surprised. I would have thought that the increase in regulation and crony capitalism would lead to less upward mobility.

  6. Oh, and for those who say that income mobility is dead — Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who was born to a single mother, just bought Lanai. From being born in the bottom quintile to owning a 140 square mile island in Hawaii. Now THAT’s mobility.

  7. Or, for a totally different view, you can try this:

    But the evidence suggests that the rich and the super-rich do not move around that much. According to the best study, fully 75 percent of those initially in the top one percent were still in the top five percent after nine years. Among those starting out in the top one percent of the top one percent, 82 percent stayed in the top one percent of all filers and 58 percent stayed in the top ten percent of the top one percent.

    Of course, you have to go really far afield to find a view like that, like from Scott Winship at the centrist Brookings Institution.

    Is it really “mobility” if it is just mobility between poor and middle class? Don’t the rich have to be part of it, too?

    1. Once again, Scott is confused between money and wealth.…..k-and-jude

    2. moving out of the top 1% usually requires either gross incompetence or criminality. The former is atypical of the 1%; they did not get there by being stupid. The latter can be prevented with good legal help.

      The rich become part of it when someone from a lower stratus moves up.

    3. Is it really “mobility” if it is just mobility between poor and middle class?

      I bet the poor think it is. Moving from the bottom quartile to the 90th quartile probably sounds pretty fucking good to them.

    4. And of course, for an even different view, one can look at the “99%” and call them a bunch of disingenuous fucks who are actually a part of the 1% if we look at the global population and not just America. You know, the land in which our “poor” live better than the vast majority of the rest of the people in the world.

      1. We are the 1%!

    5. “Is it really “mobility” if it is just mobility between poor and middle class? Don’t the rich have to be part of it, too?”

      Yeah silly Reason magazine for only considering the overwhelming vast majority of the population with their analysis.

  8. Economic mobility:

    My pocket straight into shovel-ready projects!

  9. So who comes up with all that stuff lol.

  10. There’s a bus monitor in New York experiencing some economic mobility.

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