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The Next America - Demographics 2012 / Demographics

Parents’ Income Influences a Person’s Chance of Achieving the American Dream

The chart shows that parents' income matters when it comes to making it to the middle class.

September 21, 2012

A new study challenges the notion that poor people can work hard enough to pull themselves into the middle class. Data from the Brookings Institution's Center on Children and Families found that children born to rich or poor families tend to remain in those ranks as adults.

Children born in the bottom fifth quintile have a 40 percent chance of reaching the middle class by the time they are middle age, compared with their counterparts at the top fifth quintile (75 percent). The authors of the report “Pathways to the Middle Class: Balancing Personal and Public Responsibilities” argue that there is less upward mobility in the United States than people believe and that the chances become slimmer for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The authors concluded, “Success in America is not purely meritocratic. We don’t have as much equality of opportunity as we’d like to believe, and we have less mobility than some other developed countries.”

 

Factor in race, and the differences are more stark. Only 34 percent of black adults enter the middle class by the age of 40, compared with 68 percent of whites. By middle age, 52 percent of Hispanics were in the middle echelon. But even when minorities ascend to the middle class, their children are more likely to fall back into the lower class than the offspring of white middle-class families, the research shows.

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