But now an op ed in the Washington Post by two researchers at the Brookings Institution suggests that my experience may be more of an exception than a general rule. In "Five Myths About Our Land Of Opportunity," Isabel Sawhill and Ron Hawkins demonstrate that the reality of social and economic mobility in the U.S. is much more complex than the myths might suggest.
For example, recent research demonstrates that people born into poverty in the Nordic countries and in the United Kingdom have a greater chance of forming a higher income family by the time they're adults than people born poor in the U.S. Furthermore, it is no longer certain that each generation does better than the last. In the U.S. today, men in their 30s earn 12 percent less than their fathers did at the same age.
Those are just two of examples of the myths Sawhill and Hawkins debunk. But they are not just myth-busters. They also suggest ways to bring the reality of American economic life into line with our ideals of equal opportunity. And perhaps surprisingly for two research fellows at a left-leaning think tank, it is less about income redistribution than about restoring the vitality of American families. It's a "family values" proposition that every American can embrace. Thanks to my friend Morry Tanenbaum for drawing it to my attention.