Restoring the American Dream

My latest column for the FT praises a new book by Brookings scholars Isabel Sawhill and Ron Haskins on restoring the American Dream.

Many Americans think they live in a society which, more than most, offers citizens the chance to prosper. The US is not the most equal society in the world, and does not want to be. What matters is that a poor man can raise himself up.

Creating an Opportunity Society begins by showing that, especially for the poorest children, this is something of a myth. By international standards, intergenerational mobility in the US is quite low. This will surprise few who have ventured into a US public housing project or troubled inner-city school, but many middle-class Americans never have. The figures show that US children born in the lowest and highest quintiles of the income distribution are more likely to stay there than in Britain, for example, and much more likely than in countries such as Sweden and Denmark.

But what to do about it? The book confirms a finding well established in the literature, that transition to the middle class is all but guaranteed for poor children if they do three things: finish high school, work full time and marry before having children. The US underperforms as an opportunity society because so many of its young people fail at one or more. The book focuses on these areas.

Read on here.