Income inequality is a hot issue theses days–and rightfully so. I came across articles in both the NY Times and in Crain’s on the subject this morning. This is an important and disturbing trend, but again, no mention of economic mobility…. Until I discovered an article in the Washington Post (of all places), entitled “The Economic Debate we Should Be having.” Michael Gerson made a few important remarks:
We provide food stamps to relieve hunger or vouchers to make housing more affordable. But social equality is not achieved through redistributing cash. “Our research,” argue Isabel Sawhill and Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution, “shows that if you want to avoid poverty and join the middle class in the United States, you need to complete high school (at a minimum), work full time and marry before you have children. If you do all three, your chances of being poor fall from 12 percent to 2 percent.”
Economic inequality can be justified as the reward for greater effort – so long as there is also social mobility. In the absence of mobility, capitalism becomes a caste system. And this is what America, in violation of its self-image, threatens to become. The United States has less upward economic mobility among lower-income families than Canada, Finland or Sweden. Americans who are born into the middle class have a roughly equal chance of ascending or descending the economic ladder. But Americans born poor are likely to stay on its lowest rungs.
Well stated. It’s time to get to work.