Supporting the American Dream through Economic Mobility

08/28/2012 - As both Republicans and Democrats plan their conventions and their policy platforms, the strength of the American Dream is of even greater concern than usual. Pew’s work on economic mobility is of particular relevance to these discussions.

In 2011, Pew’s Economic Mobility Project asked registered voters about their views on the economy and the federal government. A full 91 percent of Democrats, 84 percent of Independents, and 73 percent of Republicans said they wanted the government to provide opportunities for the poor and middle class. Our polling revealed that Americans firmly believe our nation should promote upward mobility for all citizens, regardless of family background. 

We encourage both parties to consider the current state of economic mobility in America—and the policy implications that result.

Our data on Americans’ economic mobility tells a mixed story. By an absolute measure, Americans are progressing up the income ladder:  84 percent of adults today have higher family incomes than their parents did at the same age. And this upward trend has been seen across the income distribution.

On the other hand, by a relative measure, incremental increases in income over a generation are not always enough to move families up the income ladder.  In fact, over 40 percent of Americans raised in the bottom remain stuck there as adults, and 70 percent remain below the middle. America has less relative mobility than most Western European nations and Canada.

Our project’s nonpartisan research includes a wealth of data on the factors that help propel someone up the economic ladder or push them down, including reports on personal savings, postsecondary education, neighborhood poverty, and state-by-state mobility estimates. 

The information offered by the Economic Mobility Project is for educational purposes and is available to all interested parties.  As a 501(c)(3) public charity, Pew is prohibited from participating in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. 

  • Chart book with the most recent data on economic mobility across generations,
  • Public opinion polling data summary on Americans’ perceptions of economic mobility following the Great Recession, and
  • Policy roadmap, authored by EMP’s bipartisan coalition of advisors, with more than 22 recommendations on how to promote economic mobility.

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