Findings from a National Survey & Focus Groups on Economic Mobility

  • March 12, 2009

In the midst of an historic economic crisis, Americans insist that despite the recession it is still possible for people to improve their economic standing, and most believe that they control their economic destiny. Americans believe ambition, hard work and education primarily drive mobility, rather than outside forces like the current state of the economy. And while many believe the government hurts more than helps people move up the economic ladder, a majority say that a number of government policies would be effective at encouraging economic mobility.

People report a considerable amount of upward mobility in their lives, and are optimistic about their ability to experience upward mobility in the near future and in their children's ability to do so in the next generation. However, when presented with a series of facts about mobility in this country—such as the difficulty many people have moving up the economic ladder—most Americans express significant concern.

For many, mobility is more about individual opportunity rather than reducing inequality, more about inherited values than about inherited wealth. It matters less that our society may be growing more stratified than that individuals and their children still have a fair shot at moving up the income ladder.