Ahh, the “American DreamÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢.” You know, that story we’re told as youngsters that we can be whatever we want when we grow up. It’s also the story immigrants are told when they come into this country. That’s right, with enough hard work and determination, anybody can make it.
Well, it’s true. But if you’re poor, only if you’re damn lucky.
The likelihood that a child born into a poor family will make it into the top five percent is just one percent, according to “Understanding Mobility in America”, a study by economist Tom Hertz from American University.
By contrast, a child born rich had a 22 percent chance of being rich as an adult, he said.
He also found the United States had one of the lowest levels of inter-generational mobility in the wealthy world, on a par with Britain but way behind most of Europe.
But it looks like the PR spinmeisters are driving the perception the other way…
A survey for the New York Times last year found that 80 percent of those polled believed that it was possible to start out poor, work hard and become rich, compared with less than 60 percent back in 1983.
And yes, race is a factor…
On average, 47 percent of poor families remain poor. But within this, 32 percent of whites stay poor while the figure for blacks is 63 percent.
It works the other way as well, with only 3 percent of blacks making it from the bottom quarter of the income ladder to the top quarter, versus 14 percent of whites.
Do I begrudge the rich their position in society? Absolutely not. In fact, I know quite a few entrepreneurs who came from nothing to become well respected in their fields and fairly wealthy. My last two bosses exemplify this, as well as the investors for the startup I currently work at. They’re all self made men, people who dreamed big and won.
And actually, I have to correct that last statement. They’re not all men. But they’re all white and the majority of them are men. In fact, by a ratio of nearly 10 to 1. So if my experience is representative of this trend, I think it’s fairly safe to say that this country already has an unofficial caste system. You know, where it’s hard to break into the club unless you have a certain “look and feel.”
True, it’ll never get as bad as India. We have laws against such things. But to think that we’re catching up with England when it comes to the dearth of upward mobility is kind of sad. And anybody who’s seen the fantastic “UP” documentary series by Michael Apted, that followed a bunch of children from age 7 on up every 7 years (14, 21, 28, so on…), can attest to the fact that people don’t usually move much beyond their station as children. It’s pretty well set in the UK, and it’s a shame that the same is proving true in the US.