Why Our Children’s Future No Longer Looks So Bright
A specter haunts America: downward mobility. Every generation, we believe, should live better than its predecessor. By and large, Americans still embrace that promise. A Pew survey earlier this year found that 48 percent of respondents felt that their children’s living standards would exceed their own. Although that’s down from 61 percent in 2002, it’s on a par with the mid-1990s. But these expectations could be dashed. For young Americans, the future could be dimmer.
Along with jobs, the 2012 presidential election could be fought over this issue. “Can the Middle Class Be Saved?” worried a recent cover story in the Atlantic. Pessimism rises with schooling. In the Pew poll, 54 percent of respondents with a high-school diploma or less felt their children would do better; only 35 percent of graduate school alums agreed. “A kind of depression has set in,” writes Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen. “We’ve lost our mojo, our groove.”
America is a competitive society. It’s not guaranteed that children achieve their parents’ relative economic status: The children of parents in the richest 20 percent won’t automatically stay in the richest 20 percent. Some children advance; some fall. But if overall incomes are rising, even those who don’t advance relatively often have higher absolute incomes than their parents. Studies by the Pew Economic Mobility Project confirm this. Two-thirds of Americans have higher incomes than their parents; half of those either ranked in the same spot of the economic distribution as their parents or lower.
Read the full article at washingtonpost.com.
- Economic Mobility Project