Personal Liberty Poll
Even though President Barack Obama is in the midst of a campaign to convince Americans that income inequality is a real problem, there’s very little evidence that the wealth gap rigidly locks individual Americans into an undesirable economic category and keeps them there.
According to a long-range scientific study that examined the economic movements of individuals over a span of more than four decades, most Americans will find themselves, at varying points in their lives, passing back and forth across the wage-earning spectrum.
In fact, according to Cornell researcher Thomas A. Hirschl and Washington University professor Mark R. Rank, nearly three-quarters of Americans will find themselves among the Nation’s highest-earning 20 percent for at least one year of their lives.
“Rather than talking about the 1 percent and the 99 percent as if they were forever fixed, it would make much more sense to talk about the fact that Americans are likely to be exposed to both prosperity and poverty during their lives, and to shape our policies accordingly,” Rank wrote in a Sunday column for The New York Times. “As such, we have much more in common with one another than we dare to realize.”
Progressive politicians seeking an election-year red herring to distract voters from Obamacare aren’t likely to slap that quote on mass mailings promoting their income inequality talking points.
The two researchers arrived at their conclusions by considering 44 years’ worth of data covering Americans between 25 and 60 years of age, attempting to discern whether those who start out poor, in the middle class or wealthy remained firmly entrenched in their economic demographic.
“The results were striking,” wrote Rank:
It turns out that 12 percent of the population will find themselves in the top 1 percent of the income distribution for at least one year. What’s more, 39 percent of Americans will spend a year in the top 5 percent of the income distribution, 56 percent will find themselves in the top 10 percent, and a whopping 73 percent will spend a year in the top 20 percent of the income distribution.
…Although 12 percent of the population will experience a year in which they find themselves in the top 1 percent of the income distribution, a mere 0.6 percent will do so in 10 consecutive years.
It is clear that the image of a static 1 and 99 percent is largely incorrect…
Ultimately, this information casts serious doubt on the notion of a rigid class structure in the United States based upon income. It suggests that the United States is indeed a land of opportunity, that the American dream is still possible — but that it is also a land of widespread poverty. And rather than being a place of static, income-based social tiers, America is a place where a large majority of people will experience either wealth or poverty — or both — during their lifetimes.
Extending economic opportunity continues to be elected conservatives’ answer to the Obama political regime’s fixation on shared income.
“For more than two hundred years, the United States — through trial and error, through good times and bad — has waged the most successful war on poverty in the history of the world,” Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) told a Heritage Foundation forum late last year. “The United States has become so wealthy that it is easy to forget that, as Michael Novak once noted, most affluent Americans can actually remember when their own families were poor.
“… And of course, the best thing we can do to help the unemployed find jobs, and low-income workers find higher-income work is to finally get our economy growing again. Reforms to our tax, regulatory, energy, and transportation systems that spur private investment and job creation can do more for upward mobility than anything else in government’s power.”