Politics & Policy

Leading Economic Indicator

As President Obama turns his attention to the very broad category of economic inequality, the more complex — and arguably more important — question of economic mobility flies under the political radar. The main questions related to economic mobility are: 1) How likely are the children of less-well-off families to improve on their situation as adults? And 2) What conditions help or hinder upward mobility? A National Science Foundation study led by economists from Harvard and Berkeley has taken a deep and wide look at the subject, analyzing the economic outcomes of all Americans born between 1980 and 1982 as they entered the fourth decades of their lives.

Many of their findings will prove unsurprising to those who have followed the issue. Non-whites experienced less upward mobility than did whites, but race seems to have an effect at the community as well as the individual level: Whites residing in largely non-white communities experienced less mobility too. Community specifics matter a great deal: Those reared around Salt Lake City and San Jose had rates of economic mobility matching those of such international leaders as Denmark, while those growing up around Atlanta and Milwaukee fell off the bottom of the chart. Schools matter, and civil society matters — areas with high rates of religious observance and participation in civic groups enjoyed greater economic mobility.

But what matters most is family.

“The strongest predictors of upward mobility are measures of family structure,” the report finds, “such as the fraction of single parents in the area. As with race, parents’ marital status does not matter purely through its effects at the individual level. Children of married parents also have higher rates of upward mobility if they live in communities with fewer single parents.”

Which is to say that, when it comes to economic mobility, there’s a lot more than economics at work. Many things can be achieved through such measures as reforming tax and regulatory laws, loosening the public-school cartels, and making resources available for the benefit of children in difficult circumstances. For individuals, economic setbacks can be reversed, and poor economic decisions can be revisited — going back to school, entering a different career. But being a single mother is not something that can easily be reversed, and being born into a single-mother family — or into a community full of fractured families — is something that children have no say in at all. Taxing and spending matter, but how we live in our families and in our communities matters profoundly more.

Those of us who worry publicly about the rise of single-mother families, out-of-wedlock childbirth, the decline of marriage, and the like are occasionally regarded as prudish old moral scolds, but it is a fact that one of the most important economic questions of our time — arguably the most important — is deeply and inseparably bound up with those social concerns. If you would build the economy, you must build the family first.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

Most Popular

The Arson Party

About that peaceful transfer of power . . . I do not have access to my friend Mario Loyola’s Donald J. Trump super-secret decoder ring, but I am inclined to accept Loyola’s explanation that what President Trump was trying to say, but couldn’t quite manage to say, was the usual witless Trump trolling -- ... Read More

The Arson Party

About that peaceful transfer of power . . . I do not have access to my friend Mario Loyola’s Donald J. Trump super-secret decoder ring, but I am inclined to accept Loyola’s explanation that what President Trump was trying to say, but couldn’t quite manage to say, was the usual witless Trump trolling -- ... Read More
Education

Husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein Admits to Helping Well-Connected Applicants Gain Admission to University of California: ‘No One Ever Told Me It Was Wrong’

The husband of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) admitted on Thursday to sending an inappropriate letter identified in a state audit that appeared to help an applicant to the University of California, Berkeley, get accepted to the school. The California State Auditor issued a scathing report on Tuesday ... Read More
Education

Husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein Admits to Helping Well-Connected Applicants Gain Admission to University of California: ‘No One Ever Told Me It Was Wrong’

The husband of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) admitted on Thursday to sending an inappropriate letter identified in a state audit that appeared to help an applicant to the University of California, Berkeley, get accepted to the school. The California State Auditor issued a scathing report on Tuesday ... Read More
Law & the Courts

No, the Democrats Won’t Pack the Court

For many progressive opinion-makers, the only way to save the Supreme Court is to destroy it.   They believe the best response to the Republican-held Senate confirming a Trump nominee to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat on the Supreme Court is to pack the Court if Democrats win in November. Holding out the ... Read More
Law & the Courts

No, the Democrats Won’t Pack the Court

For many progressive opinion-makers, the only way to save the Supreme Court is to destroy it.   They believe the best response to the Republican-held Senate confirming a Trump nominee to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat on the Supreme Court is to pack the Court if Democrats win in November. Holding out the ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Limited Judgement

On the menu today: a long look at whether the country would be better off if Supreme Court justices were limited to 18 years on the highest court, a new survey shows the public turning away from the protesters, and a tweet from the New York Times reveals some remarkable skepticism. Does the Supreme Court Need ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Limited Judgement

On the menu today: a long look at whether the country would be better off if Supreme Court justices were limited to 18 years on the highest court, a new survey shows the public turning away from the protesters, and a tweet from the New York Times reveals some remarkable skepticism. Does the Supreme Court Need ... Read More
Culture

Cancel Daphne du Maurier!

Daphne du Maurier’s brilliant novel Rebecca, first made into a film by Alfred Hitchcock (who ruined the ending), has inspired a remake. Netflix is set to release the movie on October 21, 2020. Even though I don’t expect to enjoy the film half as much as the book, it is a fantastic story, and -- what with ... Read More
Culture

Cancel Daphne du Maurier!

Daphne du Maurier’s brilliant novel Rebecca, first made into a film by Alfred Hitchcock (who ruined the ending), has inspired a remake. Netflix is set to release the movie on October 21, 2020. Even though I don’t expect to enjoy the film half as much as the book, it is a fantastic story, and -- what with ... Read More