The Corner

Scott Winship on Income Mobility: Good News Edition

This is a great interview of Brookings Institution’s Scott Winship by Nick Gillespie of Reason TV about income mobility in America. As Winship’s work demonstrates, mobility is not declining in spite of evidence that income inequality is indeed growing (especially at the top end of the income distribution). 

As he wrote a few months ago in an article in National Review:

Using . . . two National Longitudinal Survey data sets, I can compare children born between 1962 and 1964 to children born between 1980 and 1982, observing their parents’ incomes when they were 14 to 16 and their own incomes twelve years later when they were 26 to 28.

In contrast to [President Obama’s and other’s claims] of declining mobility, I found that upward mobility from poverty to the middle class rose from 51 percent to 57 percent between the early-’60s cohorts and the early-’80s ones. Rather than assert that mobility has increased, I want to simply say — at this stage of my research (which is ongoing) — that it has not declined.

If I include households that reported negative or no income, the rise in upward mobility I find is only from 51 percent to 53 percent, which is not a statistically meaningful increase. But the data provide absolutely no evidence that economic mobility declined, whereas the president said it had fallen by ten percentage points.

This should be cause for celebration. It should also give us an incentive to look into what can or should be done to improve mobility for those Americans — low-income males — who are actually losing ground, instead of fighting a pointless class war that is unlikely to help the people at the bottom of the income distribution. On that point, Tyler Cowen and I have a chapter in The Occupy Handbook, in which we argue that those really concerned about the well-being of low-income Americans should give serious thought to reforming K–12 educatio — and in particular breaking its state monopoly — rather than focusing all the attention on growing income inequality.

Veronique de Rugy — Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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