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Thought Leader Poverty & Equity Uncategorized

Poor man, poor man?

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One of the common myths about poverty is that social mobility is easy if you possess a strong work ethic and are willing to work hard.  But for that to be true there would need to be an equal playing field for everyone and access to equal opportunity to achieve.  There would be equity.  That doesn’t necessarily mean the same.  Rather, equity is the commitment to removing the institutional and systemic barriers that prevent people from accessing education, jobs, transportation, and supportive services that can help change their lives.  And it acknowledges that not everyone comes to those places from the same starting point.  People begin with unequal resources and therefore it is inherently unfair to assume that solutions that fit one will fit all.  

John Berry, Chief Executive Officer, St. Vincent de Paul Georgia

John Berry, Chief Executive Officer, St. Vincent de Paul Georgia

Generational poverty is a direct result of our failure as a society to understand that there is not one answer to poverty that fits all.  And a new and dramatic study by economists Michael Carr and Emily Wiemers from the University of Massachusetts cited in the July 14, 2016 issue of Atlantic magazine concludes that it has become harder than ever to move ‘up’ in America today.  Their study concluded that increasingly, where people start on the income ladder plays a significant role in where they end and that the opportunity to improve your situation and achieve social mobility has decreased.

The Abstract of their paper states:

“There is a sizable literature that examines whether intergenerational mobility has declined as inequality has increased. This literature is motivated by a desire to understand whether increasing inequality has made it more difficult to rise from humble origins. An equally important component of economic mobility is the ability to move across the earnings distribution during one’s own working year.  We use survey-linked administrative data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation to examine trends in lifetime earnings mobility since 1981. These unique data allow us to produce the first estimates of lifetime earnings mobility from administrative earnings across gender and education subgroups. In contrast to much of the existing literature, we find that lifetime earnings mobility has declined since the early 1980s as inequality has increased. Declines in lifetime earnings mobility are largest for college-educated workers though mobility has declined for men and women and across the distribution of educational attainment. One striking feature is the decline in upward mobility among middle-class workers, even those with a college degree. Across the distribution of educational attainment, the likelihood of moving to the top deciles of the earnings distribution for workers who start their career in the middle of the earnings distribution has declined by approximately 20% since the early 1980s.” (Read more here)

This study reinforces the need for action on the part of business, government, and nonprofit organizations and leadership to examine the systemic barriers to change that prevent us from successfully providing opportunity in an equitable manner to all.

1 Comment

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    Jack Hardin July 26, 2016 9:53 am

    John, thanks for your comment. The myth of upward mobility has been exposed dramatically by studies as those you cite and the work of Chetty et. al. looking at the odds of an individual born into poverty escaping it as an adult. The persistence of this false myth is a obstacle to getting the general public to understand there are formidable barriers faced by tens of millions of our fellow citizens to economic advancement. Barriers such as unequal education and unequal access to healthcare as well as barriers imposed by the criminal justice system are very real and very unnecessary stumbling blocks. If we want a healthier, better trained and more productive society, we need to invest in removing these barriers. thanks for highlighting the problem.Report

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