Spotlight on Poverty: Making Economic Mobility a Priority

Spotlight on Poverty: Making Economic Mobility a Priority

Economic opportunity and upward mobility have formed the foundation of the American Dream for centuries and remain at the core of our nation's identity. Yet research shows that the ability to move up the economic ladder from one generation to the next is more limited in the United States than many think. Policy can make a difference. A bipartisan group in Congress wants to make sure it does.

The best available data on economic mobility reveals a very mixed picture of Americans' access to opportunity. On the one hand, there is a glass half full, because the majority of Americans have higher inflation-adjusted family incomes than their parents did at the same age, and this is true across all income levels.

But there is also a glass half empty, because Americans raised at the top or bottom of the economic ladder are highly likely to stay there as adults, a phenomenon called “stickiness at the ends.” Seventy percent of children raised in the bottom fifth of the income distribution will remain below the middle of the income ladder as adults. Among children raised in the top fifth, 63 percent will never fall below the middle. This stickiness challenges the notion that the United States promotes equality of opportunity.

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