New report sheds light on who can achieve the American Dream (and who gets left behind)

Jul 10, 2012

The Pew Economic Mobility Project is one of the best resources out there for understanding opportunity in America, and you'll be hearing about plenty of the Project's research on this site. 

Yesterday, the folks at Pew put out a new report on whether children in America are really able to do better than their parents. This comparison between your parents' economic status  and your own is a key component of understanding economic mobility, and it's at the heart of the American Dream. 

We're working on a story for next week that will take a deeper dive into the statistics of economic mobility. But for now, here are a few quick takeaways from the Pew report

  • The good news is most Americans manage to make more money than their parents. That's especially true of people who start out at the bottom of the economic ladder. 
  • The bad news is relative economic mobility is not as strong. Imagine income levels as rungs on a ladder. With everyone's incomes increasing, those rungs have gotten farther apart. And, if your parents were on the bottom rung, there's a good chance you'll stay on the bottom rung as an adult. Forty-three percent of Americans who start out on that bottom rung never make it out.
  • Race plays a big role in economic mobility. Sixty-five percent of black children start out in the bottom rung of the economic ladder, compared to only 11 percent of whites. African Americans are also less likely to move up. Fifty-percent of black children whose parents were on the bottom rung stayed there as adults. That number is only 33 percent for white children. 
  • College is the great equalizer. Among those who start at the bottom but earn a college degree, 90 percent move up the economic ladder. 

You can read the full report here