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Income Inequality Impairs The American Dream Of Upward Mobility

The BriefGet Up To Speed

Income inequality has been on the rise for decades. In the last 30 years, the wages of the top 1% have grown by 154%, while the bottom 90% has seen growth of only 17%. As the rungs of the economic ladder move further and further apart, conventional wisdom says that it will become much more difficult to climb them. Opportunities for upward mobility'€”the American dream'€”will disappear as the deck becomes stacked against the middle class and the poor. But others see inequality as a positive, a sign of a dynamic and robust economy that, in the end, helps everyone. And contrary to public opinion, mobility has remained stable over the past few decades. If the American dream is dying, is it the result of income inequality? Or is disparity in income a red herring where more complex issues are at play?


Optimism about American opportunity may fade further as meritocracy comes under pressure from two sides: a growing economic divide between earned income and inherited wealth; and a growing social divide, marked by differences in family structure, education, and community.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Richard Reeves

As disturbing as the data on the growing inequality in income are, those that describe the other dimensions of America’s inequality are even worse: inequalities in wealth are even greater than income, and there are marked inequalities in health, reflected in differences, for instance, in life expectancy. But perhaps the most invidious aspect of US inequality is the inequality of opportunity.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Joseph Stiglitz

In 1992, economist Paul Krugman, published this article in the Fall issue of The American Prospect. It's been republished in answer to conservative critics of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century .

Sunday, March 1, 1992
Paul Krugman

Since mid-2009, some 95 percent of all US income gains have gone to the top 1 percent. Now, even powerful financiers are alarmed by the increased income inequality between rich and poor.

Sunday, January 5, 2014
Harry Bruinius

Families, labor markets, and public policies all structure a child’s opportunities and determine the extent to which adult earnings are related to family background. Cross-country comparisons and the underlying trends suggest that these drivers will most likely lower the degree of intergenerational earnings mobility for the next generation of Americans coming of age in a more polarized labor market.

Monday, October 25, 2021
Miles Corak

High earners have made significant economic contributions, but they have also reaped large gains. The question for public policy is what, if anything, to do about it.

Saturday, June 8, 2013
N. Gregory Mankiw

Hostility toward inequality is a fairly deep-rooted human sentiment, but a fundamentally illiberal one.

Monday, April 21, 2014
Brink Lindsey

Although many people consider income inequality a social ill, it is important to understand that income inequality has many economic benefits and is the result of—and not a detriment to—a well-functioning economy.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016
Thomas Garrett

There is good reason for this country to have a debate over issues such as how best to reduce poverty and increase middle-class incomes. But beating the inequality drum will do little to contribute to that debate.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Michael Tanner

Free-market economics is not about dividing up a dwindling pie, but expanding the pie to serve everyone. Those who succeed do not do so at the expense of others.

Thursday, September 13, 2012
David Azerrad and Rea Hederman

A free enterprise society is not a zero-sum game in which citizens fight over resources. It should be a shared journey that empowers everyone to improve their station and earn their own success. Income differences are inevitable, and they are not inherently problematic as long as the opportunity to rise is available to everyone.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014
American Enterprise Institute

Data from a variety of sources contribute to this broad picture of strong growth and shared prosperity for the early postwar period, followed by slower growth and growing inequality since the 1970s. Within these broad trends, however, different data tell slightly different parts of the story.

Thursday, April 17, 2014
Chad Stone

The Great Gatsby Curve, introduced in a speech by Alan Krueger, illustrates the connection between concentration of wealth in one generation and the ability of those in the next generation to move up the economic ladder compared to their parents. Related charts <a title="charts" href=" />

Thursday, January 12, 2012
Alan Krueger

Two studies by the authors find that: (1) Upward <a title="income mobility" href="">income mobility varies</a> substantially within the U.S. (2) Contrary to popular perception, <a title="mobility has not changed significantly" href="">economic mobility has not changed significantly over time</a>; however, it is consistently lower in the U.S. than in most developed countries.

Wednesday, December 31, 1969
Raj Chetty

This debate will go better which of the three challenges we are really motivated by: or put differently, if we could make progress on just one, which would we choose?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Richard Reeves
Economic Mobility Project

Pew’s financial security and mobility project studies the financial well-being of American families and how their balance sheets relate to both short-term financial stability and longer-term economic mobility.

Wednesday, December 31, 1969
The Pew Charitable Trusts

National poll results assessing the public’s perceptions of economic mobility and the American Dream.

Monday, May 19, 2014
Economic Mobility Project

Why do some Americans leave the bottom of the economic ladder, but not others?

Thursday, November 7, 2013
Economic Mobility Project

Two out of three Americans are dissatisfied with the way income and wealth are currently distributed in the U.S. This includes three-fourths of Democrats and 54% of Republicans.

Monday, January 20, 2014
Rebecca Rifkin

In a Pew Research Center survey from January, about two-thirds of respondents (65%) said the gap between the rich and everyone else has increased over the past decade, versus just 8% who said it’s decreased. But ask people why the gap has grown, and their answers are all over the place.

Monday, April 28, 2014
Drew Desilver

The American Dream is impossible to achieve in this country. So say nearly 6 in 10 people who responded to CNNMoney's American Dream Poll, conducted by ORC International.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014
Tami Luhby

Fewer Americans believe there is "plenty of opportunity" to get ahead in America today than have said so across three previous measurement points over the last 59 years.

Friday, October 25, 2013
Andrew Dugan and Frank Newport