Over the course of my life, I have made different amounts of money. As a low-level non-profit employee, I was, well, starving. Two bagels with butter was a once-a-week dinner splurge. Now? As a capitalist? Not so much.
In the eyes of economists, I have been “economically mobile”.
Economic mobility, it turns out, is tricky to measure. Do you look at income? Or wealth? Whatever you look at, how do you associate it with a person, and their partner/kids over time? When measuring income, do you count governmental transfers? Or not? Is self-reported income or wealth data, drawn from a statistically valid population, a better measure than more accurate tax data, which by its very nature excludes non-filers? I dunno. Smarter people than I have made a profession of looking at this information. And they have come one very suprising conclusions.
Income mobility in the US is relatively unchanged over long periods of time. It is just as easy, or hard, to change your income now as it was back in the day.
The American Dream is still alive and well.
2014: Is the United States still a land of opportunity? Recent trends in intergenerational mobility. By Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, Patrick Kline, Emmanuel Saez, and Nicholas Turner
2014: Where is the Land of Opportunity? The Geography of Intergenerational Mobility in the United States. By Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, Patrick Kline, and Emmanuel Saez.
2014: A Guide to Statistics on Historical Trends in Income Inequality. By Chad Stone, Danilo Trisi, Arloc Sherman, and William Chen.
2012: Pursuing the American Dream: Economic Mobility Across Generations. By The Pew Charitable Trust, team members Susan K. Urahn, Erin Currier, Diana Elliott, Lauren Wechsler, Denise Wilson, and Daniel Colbert
2011: Trends in U.S. Family Income Mobility, 1969–2006. By Katharine Bradbury
2010: Earnings Inequality and Mobility in the United States: Evidence from Social Security Data since 1937. By Wojciech Kopczuk, Emmanuel Saez, and Jae Song