August 4th, 2013
01:16 AM ET

How socially mobile is America?

Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Fareed speaks with Raj Chetty, a professor of economics at Harvard University, about a recent report he co-authored on social mobility.

What did you think as one of the authors of this fascinating study? What are the big takeaways that you get out of it?

So the basic fact from this study is that there’s a great deal of variation within the U.S. in rates of upward income mobility. So, traditionally, people often perceive the U.S. as the land of opportunity. And as you were saying, recently, people have become concerned that upward mobility is declining in the U.S. relative to other countries.

What we’re showing in this study is, actually, you should think about the U.S. very differently. There are some places that are, in fact, lands of opportunity, where children do have high odds of moving from the bottom of the income distribution to the top – places like Pittsburgh or San Diego or San Francisco. And then there are other places, like Atlanta or Charlotte or Indianapolis, where the odds of moving up in the income distribution are, unfortunately, much, much lower.

And why, if you were to point to one or two things, what was the thing that most struck you? Why is that?

So there are a number of correlations that we’re able to document. We don’t know for sure exactly what the causes of these differences are. But what we can say is things like differences in school quality or differences in the degree of income inequality or segregation in a city or things like the number of two parent families in an area are all correlated with upward mobility.

So for instance, a place like Atlanta, where the odds of moving up in the income distribution are particularly low, they tend to be cities where there’s a lot of income segregation. The poor are not living in close proximity with the rich, for example.

Post by:
Topics: Economy • GPS Show • United States

soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. matslats

    Interesting. The article speaks only of 'moving up' to a greater or lesser extent while most of the country is actually moving down. Is there some 'perception management' going on?

    August 4, 2013 at 9:54 am | Reply
  2. Marc Gendron

    How can you compare the USofA with Canada when Canada tax rates are so high it's ridiculous to live in. I lived in both countries and the US os by far more economically sound. Canada will soon be fractured with Quebec leaving by 2020.

    August 4, 2013 at 10:36 am | Reply
  3. Thanos

    You discussed with your guests about moving up the social and economic scale, but lets not forget the problems we have about education. In European countries high school students are taught subjects by educators who were college trained in the subject they teach, I am one of them. I knew more as a freshman in the US than the rest of my American friends, in a lot of subjects
    Thank you

    August 4, 2013 at 10:49 am | Reply
  4. tonyrenier

    I have witnessed a Wild West mindset in our country. There is little to no sense of community the further you move up the socioeconomic scale, where it is replaced by a mine is mine belief system at the top.
    Remember when President Obama talked about the necessity of infrastructure to make private industry successful. There was absolute rage vented by the right wing.
    The Republicans continuesly tout Ronald Reagan as their hero, yet I doubt he could be elected as a Republican today. He would negotiate to solve problems, today's Republicans seem to want a one party system or nothing.
    They are the party of the 1% and nothing more, I will try again to point out that Grover Norquist is not just the author of their tax policy but is also on the Board of the NRA, yet this is never discussed. So, even the "lame stream media" is not presenting the full picture of our atrophy.

    August 4, 2013 at 10:52 am | Reply
  5. VVVVV

    We would come up with different conclusions if they included analyzing heredity in their analysis. Heredity is 1/2 the equation. Leaving it out when analyzing prosperity amounts to a religion.

    August 4, 2013 at 10:56 am | Reply
  6. Geoff Stagg

    Money makes money. Without Wealth and Death taxes on the Mega Rich we are doomed to live in a country with a few rich people controlling the rest of us.

    August 4, 2013 at 11:27 am | Reply
  7. George patton

    America is socially mobile alright with the majority of the middle class moving down, not up. As long as the general public keeps voting the right-wing fanatics into office over and over again, this trend will only continue!

    August 4, 2013 at 11:34 am | Reply
  8. SSV

    It is fascinating to hear how often Fareed Zakaria uses the word fascinating. Everything to him is just "fascinating." Read any transcript or watching any interview and watch for's fascinating.

    August 4, 2013 at 1:47 pm | Reply
  9. larry B

    After watching your excellent panel discussion on television this morning about "America Mobility", I would like to add that in comparison to other countries around the world that U.S. State government play a far "bigger" role in the distribution of human services, infrastructure policies; development of education programs than just the U.S. Government policies. This has a bigger influence in the distribution of wealth and services then those of socially directed government programs of other global societies.

    August 4, 2013 at 1:56 pm | Reply
  10. VVVVV

    If they examined heredity and analyzed the slow loss of the American monopoly on industrial power that we would naturally come down from it's high right after WW2, they would understand it all better. America's decline in mobility is a natural economic cycle when a country is coming off it's PEAK!

    This topic is political religion. Examine the whole picture!!!!

    August 4, 2013 at 3:56 pm | Reply
  11. Bill McKellin

    It is interesting to see the relationship between upward mobility and the Old South.

    August 4, 2013 at 7:09 pm | Reply
  12. Tom N

    On GPS, Salt Lake City was mentioned as evidence that social mobility is not just a blue state (liberal) thing. That may very well be the case, but I would just like to point out that despite Utah being a "deep red" state, SLC is a very liberal city. Most people don't realize that and I just wanted to mention it, because it's inaccurate to site SLC as a case study of a "red" political area having great social mobility.

    August 4, 2013 at 10:46 pm | Reply
  13. Robert Calamia

    Not once do any of the commentators mention the importance of family in inculcating in our children social behavior and cultural values. We seem to think that we can legislate motivation to aspire to great things. A strong desire to achieve and a willingness to work hard in the effort are not qualities that can be instilled solely by our educators. Good parenting is the primary and most influential advantage we can give our children. Yet we continue to tear apart our families and discourage family life in the name of human rights.
    At the top are those whose mantra is "what's mine is mine" and they are countered by those at the bottom whose mantra is "what's yours should be mine" . This dichotomy is not productive. Yet, it is promoted by poor leadership, from the top on down.

    August 5, 2013 at 5:28 pm | Reply
  14. Eddie Fonseca

    In the late seventies and maybe somewhat into the eighties a British American group called Fleetwood Mac wrote a song called Gypsy, which talked about the hard times, that people faced in their lives from working to many hours, and breaking up with their loved ones such as their wife's or girlfriends. Many hard working family's in America who make the hard sacrifice of working two or three jobs, to live the America Dream and putting food on the table and teaching their children if you work hard in life America will reward your success. Being an American who works in the trades I hear how college and university graduates sometimes don't have strong work ethic, which is quite true so I think there should be a course taught in high schools across America about how to act in the workplace from having a strong work ethic to showing up on time to work. As Americans we know the terrible balance between home and work life, which our chase for the all might dollar sometimes tears family's apart, and the children are caught in the middle and the grow up thinking in their minds that all to life is money and that is it. Should we not as Americans ask the tough questions to our congress leaders, what happened to the family life spending more time with them like how the Europeans put family first and not let work rule their lives like it does in America for years to come.

    August 9, 2015 at 9:01 pm | Reply

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.