I've got a new column up at The Daily Beast, which previews tonight's State of the Union address and President Obama's insistence on conflating increasing income inequality with supposedly weak economic mobility.
Tonight, don't expect President Obama to cite any research showing that mobility has remained constant. Instead, expect him to echo his December speech, which was filled with lines about "a dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility that has jeopardized middle-class America's basic bargain—that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead."
From a political perspective, the erroneous but strategic conflation of inequality and mobility makes obvious sense. After all, if mobility is as alive and well as it has been in the post-war era, then the sense of urgency the president needs to sell any legislation is largely undercut. As important, constant mobility rates also make a mockery of the president's long-preferred strategy of redistributing income from the top of the income ladder down to the lower rungs….
Instead, get ready for a long list of calls to maintain and increase many programs that have been in place since before Obama took office: extending unemploymentbenefits (without paying for them by, say, cutting defense spending), making it easier for people to buy or stay in homes whose prices are inflated by government policies, and increasing access to higher education in ways that continue to increase prices far higher than the rate of inflation. Pump more money into a broken K-12 education system whose per-pupils costs rise as results stay flat (certainly the president won't call for giving parents and children the right to choose their own schools).
In short, expect Obama to invoke income inequality and supposed declines in upward mobility as a way of maintaining a status quo that has managed to increase inequality without affecting mobility rates.
Read the article, which documents research showing that economic mobility in the United States has remained constant since the 1950s.