via Real Clear Education
By Scott Winship
"...the extent to which income differences between families persist from childhood into adulthood does indicate the degree of equality of opportunity. In a world of equal opportunity, the children of poor parents would be limited in their aims neither by their parents’ inability to afford college nor by their parents’ lack of encouragement to attend college."
Economic mobility has become a leading policy concern across the political spectrum in America. But “opportunity” and “mobility” are elusive concepts. Without clearheaded thinking about what they mean and how to measure a particular way of viewing opportunity, it is easy to misinterpret the evidence on economic mobility.
Further, getting a handle on the evidence itself is no easy task. The present report is the first in a series that, together, will constitute a state-of-the-art primer on inter-generational economic mobility in the United States. The need for such a primer is not only evident from the explosion of mobility research in recent years that has scrambled our understanding of the topic.
Less understood is the need to clear up rampant confusion over what different mobility measures actually measure. The report provides an overview of the different ways of measuring both relative and absolute mobility (i.e., movement in ranks and movement in dollars). It distinguishes between mobility indicators that assess movement in different parts of the parental and child income distributions, as well as summary measures that describe how mobility does or does not reduce childhood inequalities.
Using a survey that has recorded information on thousands of families for nearly fifty years—following children as they leave home and establish their own households—the report presents new state-of-the-art estimates of an unprecedented range of economic mobility measures. The estimates constitute the most comprehensive suite of mobility measures that anyone has produced.
The report also discusses the strengths and weaknesses of summary measures in assessing the extent of equal opportunity. An up-to-the-minute literature review on levels of American economic mobility is included in an appendix.
Read the entire report HERE (PDF; 114 pages).