U.S. Social Mobility (or not)

This opinion piece by Fareed Zakaria says that the large increases in income and wealth inequality in the U.S. in recent years have been accompanied by a downward trend in social mobility. Zakaria explains:

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) declared [recently that] “Class is not a fixed designation in this country. We are an upwardly mobile society with a lot of movement between income groups.” Ryan contrasted social mobility in the United States with that in Europe, where “top-heavy welfare states have replaced the traditional aristocracies, and masses of the long-term unemployed are locked into the new lower class.” In fact, over the past decade, growing evidence shows pretty conclusively that social mobility has stalled in this country. ...The most comprehensive comparative study, done last year by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, found that “upward mobility from the bottom” ... was significantly lower in the United States than in most major European countries, including Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark. Another study, by the Institute for the Study of Labor in Germany in 2006, uses other metrics and concludes that “the U.S. appears to be exceptional in having less rather than more upward mobility.” A 2010 Economic Mobility Project study found that in almost every respect, the United States has a more rigid socioeconomic class structure than Canada. More than a quarter of U.S. sons of top-earning fathers remain in the top tenth of earners as adults, compared to 18 percent of similarly situated Canadian sons. U.S. sons of fathers in the bottom tenth of earners are more likely to remain in the bottom tenth of earners as adults than are Canadian sons (22 percent vs. 16 percent). And U.S. sons of fathers in the bottom third of earnings distribution are less likely to make it into the top half as adults than are sons of low-earning Canadian fathers.

Why? Zakaria says it's because the U.S. spends very little on poor people and childhood health and nutrition compared to other wealthy countries. And, he maintains, other countries have better public schools.

HT to Leah Nicholls.