26 March 2010

Lack of Social Mobility Proved Again

Dan Froomkin in the Huffington Post writes about something that has been well documented and for some reason always needs more evidence:

Social Immobility: Climbing The Economic Ladder Is Harder In The U.S. Than In Most European Countries: Is America the "land of opportunity"? Not so much. A new report from the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) finds that social mobility between generations is dramatically lower in the U.S. than in many other developed countries. So if you want your children to climb the socioeconomic ladder higher than you did, move to Canada.

The report finds the U.S. ranking well below Denmark, Australia, Norway, Finland, Canada, Sweden, Germany and Spain in terms of how freely citizens move up or down the social ladder. Only in Italy and Great Britain is the intensity of the relationship between individual and parental earnings even greater. For instance, according to the OECD, 47 percent of the economic advantage that high-earning fathers in the United States have over low-earning fathers is transmitted to their sons, compare to, say, 17 percent in Australia and 19 percent in Canada. Recent economic events may be increasing social mobility in the U.S. -- but only of the downward variety. Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren, for example, argues that America's middle class had been eroding for 30 years even before the massive blows caused by the financial crisis. And with unemployment currently at astronomical levels, if there are no jobs for young people leaving school, the result could be long-term underemployment and, effectively, a lost generation. According to the OECD report, the main cause of social immobility is educational opportunity. It turns out that America's public school system, rather than lifting children up, is instead holding them down.

One particularly effective way governments can help children from disadvantaged backgrounds improve their prospects, according to the report, is to increase the social mix within schools. Doing so "appears to boost performance of disadvantaged students without any apparent negative effects on overall performance." Early childhood education also helps a lot. Another big factor in social mobility is inequality, the report finds. The greater a nation's inequality, the harder it is for its children to improve their lot. That confirms findings by other researchers. "The way I usually put this is that when the rungs of the ladder are far apart, it becomes more difficult to climb the ladder," Brookings Institution economist Isabel Sawhill tells HuffPost. "Given that we have more inequality in the U.S. right now than at any time since the 1920s, we should be concerned that this may become a vicious cycle. Inequality in one generation may mean less opportunity for the next generation to get ahead and thus still more inequality in the future"...