Economic Mobility: Why the Doubters are Wrong

Most people are not even surprised any more when they hear about someone who came here from Korea or Vietnam with very little money, and very little knowledge of English, who nevertheless persevered and rose in American society. Nor are we surprised when their children excel in school and go on to professional careers.

Yet, in utter disregard of such plain facts, so-called “social scientists” do studies which conclude that America is no longer a land of opportunity, and that upward mobility is a “myth.” Even when these studies have lots of numbers in tables and equations that mimic the appearance of science, too often their conclusions depend on wholly arbitrary assumptions.

Even people regarded as serious academic scholars often measure social mobility by how many people from families in the lower part of the income distribution end up in higher income brackets. But social mobility — the opportunity to move up — cannot be measured solely by how much movement takes place.

Opportunity is just one factor in economic advancement. How well a given individual or group takes advantage of existing opportunities is another. Only by implicitly (and arbitrarily) assuming that a failure to rise must be due to society’s barriers can we say that American society no longer has opportunity for upward social mobility.

The very same attitudes and behavior that landed a father in a lower income bracket can land the son in that same bracket. But someone with a different set of attitudes and behavior may rise dramatically in the same society. Sometimes even a member of the same family may rise while a sibling stagnates or falls by the wayside.

Ironically, many of the very people who are promoting the idea that the “unfairness” of American society is the reason why some individuals and groups are not advancing are themselves a big part of the reason for the stagnation that occurs.

The welfare state promoted by those who insist that it is society that is keeping some people down makes it unnecessary for many low-income people to exert themselves — and therefore makes it unnecessary for them to develop their own potential to the fullest.

The multiculturalist dogma that says one culture is just as good as another paints people into the cultural corner where they happened to have been born, even if other cultures around them have features that offer better prospects of rising.

Just speaking standard English in an English-speaking country can improve the odds of rising.

But multiculturalists’ celebration of foreign languages or ethnic dialects, and of counterproductive cultural patterns exemplified by such things as gangsta rap, can promote the very social stagnation that they blame on “society.”

Meanwhile, Asian immigrants or refugees who arrive here are not handicapped or distracted by a counterproductive social vision full of envy, resentment and paranoia, and so can rise in the very same society where opportunity is said to be absent.

Those “social scientists,” journalists and others who are committed to the theory that social barriers keep people down often cite statistics showing that the top income brackets receive a disproportionate and growing share of the country’s income.

But the very opposite conclusion arises in studies that follow actual flesh-and-blood individuals over time, most of whom move up across the various income brackets with the passing years. Most working Americans who were initially in the bottom 20 percent of income-earners, rise out of that bottom 20 percent. More of them end up in the top 20 percent than remain in the bottom 20 percent.

People who were initially in the bottom 20 percent in income have had the highest rate of increase in their incomes, while those who were initially in the top 20 percent have had the lowest. This is the direct opposite of the pattern found when following income brackets over time, rather than following individual people.

Most of the media publicize what is happening to the statistical brackets — especially that “top one percent” — rather than what is happening to individual people.

We should be concerned with the economic fate of flesh-and-blood human beings, not waxing indignant over the fate of abstract statistical brackets. Unless, of course, we are hustling for an expansion of the welfare state.

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  • truebearing

    The so-called social scientists are tainting the findings of their research with their ideological bias, and I suspect that many, if not most of them, are doing it intentionally. The Left never has had any use for science, especially when the truth it reveals undermines their alchemical quest of turning lies into power.

    Morality and virtue were necessarily things the Left had to smother in our culture. Sloth can't be blamed for one's failure. It has to be an oppressor that causes lazy, drug indulging louts to fail.

  • Obomination

    I send my child to public school in New York and in my district most of the schools have very poor scores. The school I currently send my child to preK to, according to has scores in math and English of about 50. Some of the other schools in my district have even worse scores such as 30 in English and Math. Not so the dual language Shuang Wen school which teaches Chinese and English. Their math score is 98.4% and their english score is 89.2. That's incredible. They teach two languages and blow us away in English let alone Math. They have a different attitude than all the poorly performing schools in my district. The progressive schools lower the bar so that everyone can progress at their own pace. Shuang Wen holds up the bar very high and tells students they can get over it if they try hard enough and they do. Guess who is going to be upwardly mobile students from the school my daughter attends or students from Shuang Wen?

    • adamjw2

      Question: Why keep her in that school?

    • Jubal


      I have severe problems with your post.

      Why are you not sending your child there?

    • ltcdmward

      A ha. Real skills for the market — to become unequal — instead of "skills" and "qualification" for the Welfare State. So the solution for the "Progressives" and Democovets is get rid of the market.

  • Obomination

    One more thing, I forgot to mention, one would think the principal of Shuang Wen would be rewarded and appreciated for blowing everyone else away but know he was investigated multiple times and is now on administrative leave because there weren't enough blacks in his school.

    • Spider

      Retribution from the thug com-mie teachers unions no doubt

  • davarino

    No, the race baters, and hucksters dont care about the poor minority students. All they care about is their place in the power structure. They are like vampires, sucking the life blood from their very own people.

    • Jubal

      Memes not genes are the cause of poor performance of minorities.

      Race Hustlers are ranchers. They herd people so that they may enrich themselves.

      Case in point, Jesse Jackson is a rich man.

  • Spider

    Over half the elected officials and polititions in the US are now just Welfare State Hustlers. And of course just like their counterparts in the Mafia they take a substantial cut of what they Rob from Peter to pay Paul. That is what this is all about not helping the lessfortunate but getting their cut and gaining power over people in the process – just like the Mafia.

  • Jubal

    My wife is Chinese. She speaks perfect English. She does not have a law, accounting, medical or engineering degree. She has a degree in English.

    She makes 6 figures. Of course she has had to pick up some more mathematics on the fly such as statistics. Which is not to say she was mathematically challenged. I was working thru problems for a correspondence course one day. the particular lesson was how to obtain a square root of a number without a calculator or table (how I learned). Almost 2 decades after she left school she still knew how to do it.

    It is not genetics. It is not genes; it is memes. Who provides the memes that the poor live by? The answer is the left. That is one of major causes of poverty in the west.


  • Loyal Achates

    Why is this piece completely free of data or analysis of any kind?

    • Aeneas

      In case you missed it, you can analyze things quantitatively & qualitatively. Many times people will back up their qualitative analysis with quantitative analysis. This is usually considered best.

      But people have been know to mess up both types of analysis & to lie with both.

      Achates you area little known character and after we talk to you we do not know much more except that you are persistently wrong

  • Aeneas

    Good God, you would have thought there had been more interest in this article. :(