Great You Tube video from Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution entitled: “Is America Dreaming?: Understanding Social Mobility” Highly recommended!
Using legos and in less than four minutes he lays out the basic realities that America is moving farther and farther away from being a place of equal opportunity. Where your status at birth doesn’t matter to your economic well being as an adult.
As You Tube writes: “Reeves shows the chances that the poorest fifth of Americans have to rise to the top, based on their race, the marital status of their mothers, and their level of education.”
For whites born in the bottom quintile the income distribution as adults is about even divided across the quintiles. Not so for blacks. Where if you are born in the bottom quintile, one third will remain there and only 3 percent will make it to the top. (The same disparity patterns holds for those born to never married parents compared to those with married parents.)
Education attainment also is a key determinant of economic mobility. Those born in the bottom quintile who earn a college degree end up about equally represented in the quintiles as adults. That is what economic opportunity looks like. As Reeves says in the video: “Go to college”.
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It is interesting that the two biggest predictors of people staying in poverty mentioned by Mr. Reeves are race and marital status of the parents. However, since an extremely high percentage of black children born into poverty are also born to single mothers, it looks like being born into a single parent family is the primary factor causing the problem. I am sure some of the lack of movement of blacks to a higher quintile is due to racism, but the high percentage of poor black children born to single mothers is a much bigger problem today.
I think all three factors he mentions matter: race, family structure and education. The hope has always been that good schools––which are not available to most low income kids––could trump the other two. Its not working that way at the moment. All three are reinforcing.
Government can have a big impact on 2 of the 3. They can make sure laws against racial discrimination are enforced, and they can provide funding for good schools in low income neighborhoods. I think there is much less the government can to change family structure. I think religious and civic organizations are better equipped to do that. The obvious candidate that should be doing much more to correct this problem is the black churches. Many of them are doing heroic things to correct the problems, but many others are not. Many black churches that are trying don’t have the necessary resources. White, middle class churches (like mine) that do have the resources need to get behind our black brothers and support this great effort.