Actually, not much has changed about American economic mobility

Moving up the income ladder has its limits -- especially as inequality deepens. Pictured above: The One World Trade Center in New York City is one of the tallest buildings in New York City. 

There has been rare bipartisanship in Washington lately over the need to regain economic mobility in the United States. But a new study out of Harvard suggests those politicians are wrong – mobility hasn’t really changed much in the past few decades.
 
The study is part of the Equality of Opportunity Project, which is based on tens of millions of anonymous tax records. 

“The level of mobility throughout the past thirty or forty years or so has not been very high compared to most other developed countries,” says Harvard economist Raj Chetty, one of the co-authors of the study.

“We should be quite concerned about mobility in a society with a lot of inequality, because kids who don’t get a chance to move up in the income distribution are really getting left behind in today’s economy.”

And while his study found that mobility hasn’t changed much in the U.S., the rise of inequality is very much a concern. “If you’re born to a high income parent verses a low income parent, that’s going to generate a wider difference in your income level as a child today than it did 30 years ago, when we had a more equal society.”

The study found that geography mattered when it came to the rate of mobility – certain cities had more than others.

But Chetty says there’s still more research to be done: "We don’t know exactly what that secret sauce is."

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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