Monday, May 16, 2005

Social mobility

The NY Times is running an interesting set of articles about social mobility. You can read the first here.

The NY Times, like most media, is really striving to be fair and balanced here, but I think in this case it's painting an unnecessarily grim picture of class in America today. If you look at their data, we see that people in the bottom quintile had about a 50-50 chance of moving into a higher quintile over ten years. In my opinion, those are not long odds. Those are "work hard and you'll make it" odds. People in the bottom quintile had a 5% chance of making it to the top quintile. Once again, this is hard, but hardly impossible. Many liberals have made it seem like a person born poor had such huge obstacles to overcome that the odds of them succeeding were about the odds of an aspiring baseball player to make it to the majors.

Also keep in mind that we're only talking about ten years here. I'll share a little bit of my info with you. When I started out, I made $4.75 an hour, or $7000/yr(part time work). That's defintely bottom quintile territory. Ten years later, I was making $30,000/yr, which I believe puts me pretty firmly in the 3rd quintile. Not too shabby, according to the NY Times' data, my odds were 25% of accomplishing that. So pat me on the back, thank you very much. However now, I'm up to $36,000, three years later. That's about 4% real growth per year. At that rate, I'd be getting into the 2nd quintile in about 20 or 30 years. But I plan on doing better. That's if I only get raises and similar jobs my whole life. If I continue on my career track, I can eventually expect to make top quintile wages. I'll probably achieve that at the end of 20 years of working life. So over 20 years, if all goes well, I'll be on top, from the bottom. I wonder how many people from the bottom quintile would be following me over 20 years. I hope the NY Times uses the same data and comes back to tell us in 2015.

In my opinion, social mobility will not be a problem unless we have a situation where people born poor actually do have long odds to make it to the middle class. I just don't see that kind of problem in the current social mobility data.