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Stuck on our economic ladder

Cowboy hat By Jim Hightower and Phillip Frazer - Thu., 2/9/12
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One of the hidebound myths in our culture is the Horatio Alger fantasy: you might be born poor, Bucko, but America's the land of upward mobility--grit and gumption can get you from the very bottom of the economic ladder all the way to the top.

Lately, this musty myth is being challenged by everyone from academics to Wall Street protestors. Even prominent politicos are catching on--as one said last fall, "[Movement] up into the middle income is actually greater... in Europe than it is in America." That's no liberal talking, it's Rick Santorum! The same guy who now says "There are no classes in America" was at least visiting reality just a few months ago.

While GOP leaders still try to dismiss the issue of income inequality, the mobility issue goes to the very core of America's identity. John Bridgeland , a former Bush aide who now heads the policy group Opportunity Nation, says bluntly that Republicans "will feel a need to talk about a lack of mobility-- a lack of access to the American Dream."

Many recent studies confirm that we have class "stickiness." A Pew research report finds that about 62 percent of Americans born on the top rungs of the economic ladder stay there, and 65 percent born on the bottom rungs remain stuck there. In a ranking of nine affluent countries, Canada was tops in upward mobility and the US was last.

Upward mobility starts with a unity of purpose among all of our people--and we can't achieve that as long as top corporate and governmental leaders deliberately widen the chasm separating the rich from the rest of us.

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Filed Under: Money, Poverty, Wealth