David Frum

02.09.12

Horatio Alger is Dead

Scott Winship, a close student of upward mobility in America, has good news and bad news:

The good news is that children born into the middle class in the US have a fair chance of rising to affluence. Girls born poor have a fair chance of rising out of poverty. However...

evidence on earnings mobility in the sense of where parents and children rank suggests that our uniqueness lies in how ineffective we are at lifting up men who were poor as children. In other words, we have no more downward mobility from the middle than other nations, no less upward mobility from the middle, and no less downward mobility from the top. Nor do we have less upward mobility from the bottom among women. Only in terms of low upward mobility from the bottom among men does the U.S. stand out.

Of course, the promise that a poor boy can rise to affluence—or at least security—has been the American dream since the time of Benjamin Franklin. That dream alas seems finished.