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Social Mobility: Is The American Dream Slipping Away?

5606 words - 22 pages

Social Mobility: Is The American Dream Slipping Away?This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary, in Washington. Neal Conan is away. It's an American story as old as Horatio Alger: Hard work, determination and presto, you can change your station in life. But increasingly many Americans find themselves stuck where they are on the economic ladder, that American dream just out of reach.A recent study from the Economic Mobility Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts finds that 83 percent of adult children make more money than their parents did, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're better off socially or economically. We'll hear more about that study in a bit, but we also want to hear your stories today.Tell us about a moment when you realized you were moving up or down the economic ladder? What happened? Our number is 800-989-8255. Our email address is And you can join the conversation at our website. Go to, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.Later in the program, ghostwriting for Sweet Valley High. But first: Is it still possible for Americans to move up the economic ladder? Marilyn Geewax is a senior business editor for NPR News, and she joins us now in Studio 3A. Welcome to the program, Marilyn, good to have you with us.MARILYN GEEWAX, BYLINE: Hi Lynn.NEARY: So economic mobility seems to be on the minds of people on both the left and the right. Jeb Bush had this to say on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" earlier this week.(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, 'MORNING JOE')JEB BUSH: I think going forward we have to deal with our longer structural problems. The biggest one, as far as I'm concerned, is that we're no longer socially mobile as a country. You have people that are born poor, and there's a higher and higher probability they're going to stay poor; and you have people that are born rich, and there's a greater probability they're going to stay rich.MIKA BRZEZINSKI: They'll get richer.BUSH: It's just - it is so un-American.NEARY: Un-American. Is it, Marilyn?GEEWAX: Well, it's certainly true that the idea of economic mobility is a core principle for Americans. It's what the American dream is all about. But we have to separate out a couple of ideas. One is the idea of income inequality and the other is economic mobility. So the first idea is that we have some people who are very rich and some people who are very poor.And in the United States, we've always had a pretty high tolerance, actually, for income inequality because we're a nation of immigrants. People show up, they don't have five cents in their pocket, you know that. You don't expect to become a millionaire the next day. But you do want to come to the United States and feel like you can move up, that you can change where you started out.So this is a - these are two separate ideas. We tolerate income inequality a great deal, but we want to know that we can move up and down based on our own efforts and not just who our parents were. So this is very important to our idea of how our economy...

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