Friday, September 21, 2012

Myth of Mobility vs. Statistics for Stability

It is obvious the persons come to our shores to escape tyranny and enjoy liberties unheard of in their native lands. Part of the reason for immigrants wanting to come to America is the ideal of opportunity. Anyone can become president. Everyone can become rich. However, this myth is not as bright as once publicized. In fact the “anyone can advance” story is quite tarnished. Persons born into real poverty confront challenges.  A “poor little rich kid” can’t even begin to recognize the benefits that he takes for granted. The destitute by contrast face threats daily. What will we eat for the next meal? Will it be cold tomorrow since I don’t have a coat for my child? How can I afford the medicine my child needs? Where will I get cash to buy gas for our rusted out car?

One of the neighborhood villages that fed the elementary school where my wife had taught for years appeared to have been a former migrant work camp. When teacher teams visited this block house community to meet with parents to talk with them about educating their children they discovered an amazing fact. None of the houses had any books, not one. Reading was not a priority because books were absent. This is the situation that many are born into. They are expected run a race in chains bare foot alongside the trained track-shoed well fed competitor. What further exacerbates this inequity is that many schools in our part of the county do not have enough textbooks so that every child can take one home to do assigned work. These students share textbooks in class.

Examine the time/growth graph above. This information demands that we acknowledge how various elements of society are doing quite differently in this “land of opportunity.” This is not about drive. This is not about talent. This is about a dramatically different set of conditions that enable the elite to advance while the huge majority of families remain mired through disadvantaged situations not of their own choosing. Look how the top 1% over almost 40 years had raced ahead unlike the 99% below them. Look at how the lowest fifth has made nearly no increase whatsoever over almost 40 years of trying. The same observations may be made for the next division of persons composing the middle three fifths, increase but not much. Even the second highest group making up the top fifth minus the uppermost 1% shows similar limited advances.

What this graph demonstrates is that for the last 40 years the American myth of upward mobility for most Americans is dead or on life support.

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