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Economic Brief

July 2013, No. 13-07

Land of Opportunity? Economic Mobility in the United States

Kartik B. Athreya and Jessie Romero

Income inequality has increased in recent years, while economic mobility has decreased. Many factors contribute to mobility, but for most people advancement depends on opportunities to obtain human capital — opportunities that are not as good for children in poor families. Initiatives that focus on early childhood education seem to yield high returns on investment and potentially could help the United States achieve a more inclusive prosperity.

Additional Resources

Aaronson, Daniel, and Bhashkar Mazumder, "Intergenerational Economic Mobility in the United States, 1940 to 2000," Journal of Human Resources, Winter 2008, vol. 43, no. 1, pp. 139–172. (Article is available online by subscription.)

Athreya, Kartik, and Jessie Romero, "Land of Opportunity? Economic Mobility in the United States," Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond 2012 Annual Report, pp. 4–23.

Congressional Budget Office, "The Distribution of Household Income and Federal Taxes, 2008 and 2009," July 2012.

Heckman, James J., "Schools, Skills, and Synapses," Economic Inquiry, July 2008, vol. 46, no. 3, pp. 289–324. (A discussion paper version is available online.)

Kopczuk, Wojciech, Emmanuel Saez, and Jae Song, "Earnings Inequality and Mobility in the United States: Evidence from Social Security Data Since 1937," Quarterly Journal of Economics, February 2010, vol. 125, no. 1, pp. 91–128. (A previous version is available online.)

Mazumder, Bhashkar, "Upward Intergenerational Economic Mobility in the United States," Economic Mobility Project, The Pew Charitable Trusts, May 2008.

Restuccia, Diego, and Carlos Urrutia, "Intergenerational Persistence of Earnings: The Role of Early and College Education," American Economic Review, December 2004, vol. 94, no. 5, pp. 1354–1378. (A working paper version is available online.)

Sawhill, Isabel V., Scott Winship, and Kerry Searle Grannis, "Pathways to the Middle Class: Balancing Personal and Public Responsibilities," Brookings Institution Center on Children and Families, September 2012.

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