Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, believed that U.S. income mobility, or the rags-to-riches story of the American Dream, is at a standstill. At a presentation and panel discussion at the Hoover Institution, Petrilli pointed out the problems that American families are facing in today’s economy.
He said that other countries, not the U.S., “tend to do better than we have” in income mobility. Petrilli said that the U.S. and the United Kingdom have a strong relationship, data-wise between generational income (i.e. parent’s income linked to children’s future income). He disagreed with President Barack Obama’s claim that all is well in America, “No, in fact, [income mobility] looks pretty stable” over time in the U.S. “People haven’t seen a raise in decades,” Petrilli added, and during recessions, America’s “families started to fall apart.”
Compared to the 1950s, in which 20% of American families were single-parent, today’s percentage is more than 60%, Petrilli said. This is “an enormous change,” said Petrilli, and it has led a substantial growth in the academic achievement gap by income. “Not surprising,” he said, “but quite sobering” when there are both families where one parent works two jobs and the “helicopter, upper-middle class parents” and only one of these families’ children has higher rates of success and income.
Petrilli believed that three major initiatives will help stop and reverse the growing academic achievement gap and income gap:
- “balance college ‘obsession’ with renewed attention to technical education,”
- “prioritize the needs of ‘strivers’”, or those who are working hard and still need additional help and support, and
- “encourage all students to follow the ‘success sequence,’ which includes “delaying parenthood until they are ready.”
Photo by Guillermo Sainz