Posts Tagged ‘Economic Opportunity’

Wealth, risk, and power

August 9, 2017

This is from a Twitter thread by Theresa Nielsen-Hayden.

1.  The rich don’t need federal health insurance. Their up-and-coming competitors, who aren’t rich yet, do: one major illness can wipe them out.

2.  The rich donor class hates social policies that make the non-rich braver and more enterprising. For example…

3.   Social Security, so a lifetime of hard work doesn’t end in misery.  Student financial aid, so that talent + hard work can = achievement.

4.  Bank regulation, so our careful savings and investments aren’t wrecked by irresponsible games the big-money guys play with each other.

5.  Health and safety regulations, because it shouldn’t be okay to maim or poison people who don’t have clout. And so forth.

6.  Us little guys shouldn’t have the nerve to start new businesses, develop new products, or go as far as our work and talent will take us.

7.  Poor whites are supposed to stay poor, and know in their bones that they’re born to sorrow, and their luck will never last.

8.  Blacks should keep quiet, and do first-rate work on jobs that are well below their ability, because things can always get worse, y’hear?

9.  There’s no point in women having ambitions, because one little mishap can wreck everything you’ve worked for.

10.  Keeping the rest of us in a constant state of low-level fear is the one consistent goal of the policies the donor class supports.

11.  Why? Because we have to tolerate some risk in order to successfully compete with them and their less-than-talented offspring.

12.  I’m not talking about rational, calculable risks.  I mean the unforeseeable: illness, accidents, market crashes, natural disasters.

13.  They want us to know in our bones that we have no defense against risk. If *anything* happens, we’ll be stuck paying for it forever.

14.  We’re not allowed to build a more level playing field that we all share.  They want us out of the game entirely, so they can always win.

15.  Meanwhile, they’re always angling to get their own risk reduced.  Always.  Because winning.


Upward mobility in red vs. blue America

July 30, 2013

In what part of the United States do people have the best chance to get ahead—the conservative Republican areas or the liberal Democratic areas?  David Leonhardt of the New York Times, author of a much-read article about the geography of upward mobility, reported in a follow-up article that there’s little overall difference between Red and Blue America.

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The study found that among the 50 largest metropolitan areas, the ones that offer the best opportunities for poor people to get ahead are (1) the best,  Salt Lake City, (2) San Jose, CA, (3) San Francisco, (4) Seattle, (5) San Diego, (6) Pittsburgh, (7) Sacramento, (8) Manchester, NH, (9) Boston and (10) New York City.

The ones that offer the worst opportunities are (41) Milwaukee, (42) Cincinnati, (43) Jacksonville, FL, (44) Raleigh, NC, (45) Cleveland, (46) Columbus, (47) Detroit, (48) Indianapolis, (49) Charlotte, NC and (50) the worst, Atlanta.

Leonhardt commented:

The patterns make sense in light of the four factors the study cited as being strongly correlated with upward mobility rates: school quality; family structure; civic engagement, including membership in religious groups; and the size and geographic dispersion of the middle class. These factors do not strongly favor either conservative America or liberal America.

On the one hand, divorce tends to be less common in high-mobility areas, and Democratic states generally have lower divorce rates. But religious participation, another feature of high-mobility regions, is typically higher in Republican states.  Standardized test scores are generally higher in Democratic states than Republican ones, but several conservative states, like Kansas, Montana and the Dakotas, have high scores, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The study also found that some of the metropolitan regions with a notably small number of middle-class households (based on the national income distribution) and a high concentration of poverty are in blue-leaning states. Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit and Baltimore all make that list.


It’s true that upward mobility is less common in Deep South. (In the 11 states that made up the Confederacy, the odds of jumping from the bottom fifth of the income distribution in childhood to the top fifth in adulthood were only 6.6 percent, compared with 8.9 percent in the rest of the country.)

But mobility was also notably low in Democratic-leaning Michigan and in the swing state of Ohio.  As Paul Krugman noted in his column today, Atlanta and Detroit, which otherwise have little in common, both suffer from low mobility.  And while the Northeast and West Coast, Democratic strongholds, have high rates of mobility, some of the highest rates are in Utah, Wyoming and the Dakotas, none of which have voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in almost 50 years.



Upward mobility isn’t the most important thing

July 29, 2013
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It’s good if hard-working talented people can rise in the social scale.  But measures of social mobility shown on the map and the New York Times link in the previous post are not measures of objective well-being.  They only show how many Americans improve their income ranking compared to other Americans.  They do not show how well we Americans as a whole are doing.

Improvement in income ranking is a zero-sum game.  For everybody that rises to a higher percentile in income rank, at least one other person must fall.  Nothing wrong with that—but how Americans are sorted into winners and losers is a different question from whether Americans as a whole have an opportunity to better their condition.

The United States in the early 19th century was justly reputed to be the best country in the world for working people, at least for white working men.  The American dream was not just that an unschooled rail splitter like Abraham Lincoln could become President of the United States.  It was that all rail splitters could earn a sufficient living to support their families, and could expect their children could have better lives than they did.

It’s better to have fluid economic classes than hereditary poverty and wealth.  But it is more important to have a system in which all hard-working, law-abiding people can have a decent standard of living and realistically hope for a better future for their children.   It matters little if a select few can aspire to wealth if the economic system is set up so that a large, fixed number of people are going to be poor.


Where you live and how far you can rise

July 29, 2013
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The New York Times published a much-discussed article showing that the odds of American children rising to a higher income bracket than their parents vary widely depending on where they’re born.  There’s enough food for thought in the article and the accompanying map to keep social science researchers busy for a generation.

Click on In Climbing Income Ladder, Location Matters to read the full article.  The map with the original article is interactive, so if you’re an American, you can see how much income mobility there is in the metro area closest to you.

It isn’t hard to understand why there is little opportunity in some of the former one-industry towns of the Midwest Rustbelt, where the one industry has closed.  The Deep South has long been a region where hereditary wealth is respected and leaders try to attract new industry with promises of low wages and no labor unions.  But that is just as true of Texas as it is of Georgia, and Texas doesn’t seem to follow the Deep South pattern.

It’s more interesting to speculate as to why some communities offer so much more opportunity than others.  Is there a common factor that links San Francisco and Salt Lake City?  What do you think?

[Update]  I forgot to mention that the researchers concluded that poor people have a greater chance of moving up when they are intermingled with middle-class people rather than living in concentrations of poverty.  Other things that are correlated with upward mobility are predominance of two-parent families, good elementary and high schools and high membership in church and civic organizations.

High taxes on rich people and tax credits for poor people don’t seem to have much effect, they found; the presence of ultra-rich people and institutions of higher learning doesn’t seem to matter much.  Researchers said counties with high concentrations of African-Americans appear to have less upward mobility for both black and white residents.  This is from the New York Times article.  Click on the link to read it.