October 20, 2013

JOEL KOTKIN: Stuck At The Bottom.

Declining prospects for upward mobility, and the simultaneous social inequality, are the existential issues of our time. The percentage of adults who believe things will be better for their kids is at its lowest point in 30 years, with a majority now saying upward mobility for the next generation is not likely. The kids, God bless them, are still far more optimistic.

Despite President Obama’s occasional class-warfare rhetoric, this gap has widened significantly under his watch; the top 1 percent of earners garnered more than 90 percent of the income growth in his first two years, compared with 65 percent under George W. Bush. But the problem is more extensive than one or two administrations. Most Americans’ incomes have stagnated for almost a quarter century. . . .

This growing inequality, with its racial connotations, is fundamentally socially unsustainable. Yet how to restart upward mobility remains a difficult proposition. Progressives might shout loudest about inequality, but their economic policies have failed to produce either upward mobility or greater equality.

Indeed, under the current liberal regime, the prospects for the poor and working class have decreased markedly while the wealthy, often villainized by the administration, have luxuriated. During much of the tenure of the first black president, the gap between Anglo incomes on the one side and those of blacks and Hispanics has widened, doubling since the Great Recession.

Indeed, racial economic disparities are mostly unchanged or are growing. The black unemployment rate remains more than double the white jobless rate and reaches 40 percent among black youth.

A debate is needed now about what policies best promote upward mobility. Some combination of encouraging broader-based economic growth and nurturing fundamental values of education, family and social engagement arguably offers the best approach. It is a message likely neither political party particularly wants to hear, but it’s one they need to acknowledge and confront.

Well, I’ve offered my plan already.

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