Economic Mobility and the State of the Union

01/22/2014 - Five decades after President Lyndon B. Johnson declared the War on Poverty, experts disagree on the success of the policies and programs he put forth but agree that we have not yet achieved his vision: a country where the American Dream is within reach of everyone. In recent weeks, Democratic and Republican lawmakers have cited the state of economic mobility in America to underscore the challenges we face in reaching this vision.

In his upcoming State of the Union address, President Barack Obama is likely to mention an issue with broad agreement in Congress and the nation: strengthening the connection between opportunity and economic mobility. Focusing on economic mobility encourages stakeholders to weigh all the factors that influence it—from neighborhoods to personal savings to education—in an effort to create an opportunity-rich society.

Working together to promote economic mobility is one way that Americans can begin to reclaim the American Dream. The facts below illustrate some of the most important findings from Pew’s research on economic mobility.

Fact #1

“One of the hallmarks of the American Dream is equal opportunity: the belief that anyone who works hard and plays by the rules can achieve economic success. But that rags-to-riches story is more prevalent in Hollywood than in reality. In fact, 43 percent of Americans raised at the bottom of the income ladder remain stuck there as adults, and 70 percent never make it to the middle.”

—Erin Currier, director, economic mobility project, The Pew Charitable Trusts


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Fact #2

Having a college degree makes a person three times more likely to rise from the bottom of the income ladder all the way to the top. In addition, nearly half of those who start at the bottom and do not get a college degree are stuck there a generation later.

Learn more: Pursuing the American Dream

Fact #3

Economic security and mobility go hand in hand: Those who left the bottom of the income ladder had six times higher liquid savings and eight times more wealth than those who remained stuck at the bottom.


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Learn more: Moving On Up

Fact #4

Over the course of a generation, wealth has grown for those at the top but declined for those at the bottom and middle.

Learn more: Pursuing the American Dream

Fact #5

Living in a high-poverty neighborhood during childhood plays a powerful role in preventing a person from moving up the economic ladder. Black children are 11 times more likely than white children to grow up in high-poverty neighborhoods.

Learn more: Neighborhoods and the Black-White Mobility Gap

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