Please, if you have some spare time—or are bored with work after a nice long weekend away—skim this (pdf link) report on economic mobility in the US. Or at least see the charts and summary over at Washington Monthly.
But if you really don’t have time, here are the key points:
- Americans move up and down the economic ladder far less than is commonly believed—and much, much less than residents of Northern Europe. (Apparently, Horatio Alger isn’t dead, he’s just moved to Denmark.)
- On average, American men today earn less than their fathers did, after adjusting for inflation. Families earn a bit more, but only because they’re more likely to have two wage earners. (Yes, yes, I know that measuring inflation over long periods is tricky. Still, it was much easier a generation ago to raise a family on a single income than it is today.)
- Middle-class incomes have been stagnant for years, even though the economy has grown far more productive. At this point, when the economy “grows,” only the very well-off see much benefit.
The interesting thing to me about this report is that it’s not from the usual suspects. The Economic Mobility Project includes researchers from the Urban Institute, who’ve been saying this stuff for years; but also from The Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute, which…um…aren’t typically thought of as economic rabble-rousers.