Robinson latched onto the finding that only 6 percent of those persons whose parents were in the poorest fifth of American families in 1968 had managed to climb into the wealthiest fifth by the time they were in their late 30s or 40s. He doesn't bother to quote the study's finding that "[c]hildren born into the bottom fifth are more likely to surpass their parents' income than are children from any other group."
What seems to irk Robinson and others looking for bad economic news is the finding that income among the top two quintiles has gone up more than among the middle and lower two quintiles -- 52 percent for the top fifth, 39 percent for the second fifth, while only 29 percent for the middle, 22 percent for the second lowest and 18 percent for the bottom fifth.
In other words, even though all Americans are much better off today than they were a generation ago, the most affluent Americans have improved their status relative to others. Robinson doesn't tell readers that more than 60 percent of children born into the wealthiest group don't stay there, slipping down into lower income groups, including almost one-in-ten who slip into the poorest fifth of Americans.
About one-third of all Americans are upwardly mobile, according to the study, meaning not only do they earn more money than their parents in absolute terms, but they improve their ranking relative to others as well. Another third, though their incomes are higher than their parents', remain at the same relative rank, and one-third slip into lower ranks than their parents'.
This seems to depict an almost perfectly mobile society, with equal percentages of Americans moving up, staying the same or moving lower in relative economic standing. But some folks, it seems, will always find a way to turn good news into bad.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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