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New York Times – Opinions Page: The Glass-Floor Problem

Mr Reeves: “It is a stubborn mathematical fact that the top fifth of the income distribution can accommodate only 20 percent of the population. If we want more poor kids climbing the ladder of relative mobility, we need more rich kids sliding down the chutes.”

The issue of “white privilege” is outdated. The new problem: opportunity hoarding.

I agree with the writer that unpaid internships favor the rich. The middle class youth need jobs with pay. Other ways the elite hoard opportunities for their own children include social networking, alumni “legacy” admissions, and finding jobs through family and friends. Mr Reeves argues that this natural tendency to favor one’s own restricts mobility between socioeconomic classes. 

I think the writer is only partly correct. I have a different interpretation of his own graph, which is online at the Brookings Institute – The Case for Downward Mobility. Mr Reeves complains that 42% of the people born into the lowest income quintile remain there as adults. But that means the 58% of people born into the bottom quintile move up. The graph shows that 6% of the poor children reach the highest income quintile, while 9% of the richest children fall to the bottom.

The graph shows that only 39% of children born into the top tier remain there as adults.

This looks normal to me. This looks like healthy social and economic mobility.