Further (and in contrast) to this morning’s post about the notion that Latinos in Rhode Island are “lagging” in some way that requires us all to change the way we do things and add even more government services for their benefit, I’d offer this chart from the Brookings Institution as evidence of a real and actual problem that definitely demands our attention. The interactive version, titled “Social Mobility Matrix: Race,” on Brookings’s site, gives more detail.
Basically, the chart shows a high degree of mobility for white Americans, meaning that only 23% of whites born into the lowest fifth for income (of all Americans) will remain in that group at age 40. Sixteen percent will have reached the top quintile. The interactive Brookings version shows that, of whites born into the top fifth for income, about 32% will still be there at age 40, while 10% will have fallen to the bottom.
For black Americans, the picture is very different. Fully half of those born into the lowest fifth will remain there at age 40, with only 3% having reached the top. The chart shows no significant number in the top quintile at birth, but of blacks born into the second-highest fifth, only 10% will remain there, while 22% will have fallen all the way to the lowest.
This suggests an appalling lack of opportunity, with the deck stacked against black Americans. But racism should not be the go-to explanation. Scroll up on Brookings’s article, for example, and you’ll see that 50% of those born in the bottom fifth to mothers of all races who never married remain in the bottom fifth at age 40. Meanwhile, 83% of those born to mothers in the bottom fifth who were “continuously married” manage to get out of that group.
So, clearly, cultural considerations are important. This is what I meant some years ago when I pointed out that changing the definition of marriage in order to include same-sex couples would harm the most vulnerable. If we insist that there is no link between marriage and creating and raising children, fewer lower-income couples will believe that they should raise children within a married household, making it more likely those children will remain in the lower income groups. Right now in history, the people in this income demographic are disproportionately black.
Licensing can act as a form of “opportunity hoarding,” allowing those with resources and connections to benefit from the higher incomes flowing from these occupations, in part by preventing others from competing with them. As Reihan Salam points out, questionable licensing extends well up the income distribution. Dentists in North Carolina prevent other professionals from providing teeth-whitening—even though the procedure is relatively straightforward. Insurance brokers in Utah play a similar game by attempting to make free equivalents of their service illegal. If nurses were allowed to perform more routine medical procedures, doctors would make slightly less, but nurses could earn more and overall health care costs would likely fall.
If you really want a platform to raise people out of poverty and foster income equality, the standard progressive-Democrat line is not only wrong, but detrimental. You need policies that encourage strong families and allow people to experiment with occupations, keep more of what they earn, and build careers from the bottom up.
Little wonder progressives seek to divide us along racial lines.