Economic mobility, the ability to improve one’s economic standing, is framing policy debates across the nation amidst the current election season. A brief released today by the NC Budget and Tax Center reports that the American Dream is slipping out of reach for many Tar Heels who are facing lower rates of absolute and relative upward mobility compared to Americans on average. North Carolinians are also contending with widespread income inequality, which is correlated with lower rates of economic mobility according to research.
Is America still the “Land of Opportunity” regardless of one’s starting point in life? According to a 2011 poll conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts, Americans are pessimistic about their own economic future. The poll found that less than half of parents anticipate their children will have an improved economic standing during adulthood. Unfortunately, the parents in the bottom fifth of the income distribution who don’t share this belief have good reason. Of the children who are born into the bottom first of the income distribution, research shows 42 percent of them will likely remain there as adults. One’s starting point does in fact matter a great deal, more so here in the United States than in several European countries according to another study.
North Carolina needs policies that enable equality of opportunity, rebuild entryways into the middle class, and ensure that prosperity is broadly shared for the next generation so that their economic potential is fulfilled.