Economic Mobility

What is considered the American Dream — a promising education, a job that pays a living wage, homeownership, and retirement — is attainable only for some in the United States. Economic mobility — or the prospect of improving one’s income relative to the income of one’s parents — is hindered by a historical inability of black families to accumulate and transfer wealth. Today, the top one percent of the nation’s wealth distribution includes less than two percent of black households. Those unfortunate enough to not have the wealth of upper-income families are not able to recover from shocks like the Great Recession as quickly. For other families, events far smaller than a recession can jolt the household. In 2017, about 4 in 10 adults said they would have trouble covering an unexpected expense of $400 – that’s about half the price of a new iPhone. And it is an unimpeachable fact that wealth inequality is greatest for black families, who in 2016 had roughly one-tenth the wealth of white families ($17,100 compared with $171,100). 

Income and wealth are not the whole story behind inequalitythese gaps, and our Economic Mobility Policy Forum will address these and other themes, including:

  • Opportunity. Housing, food, health, and access to medical care and social services are a few examples of the basic opportunities that should be accessible to every American. It is not a coincidence that these are included included in the 1984 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Disconnection from school and work. In the United States, problems like unemployment and underemployment, poverty, and incarceration are often exacerbated by disconnection from school or work at the crucial ages of 16 to 24. While this disconnection can have many root causes, successful strategies generally involve reconnecting youth with job training, employment, or education. At the local level, city staff and leaders, nonprofits, and school districts are taking the lead on implementing evidence-based practices to prevent disconnection or re-connect youth with school, work, and other supports. 
  • Food insecurity. In 2017, 12 million children in the United States were food insecure, a term that  captures whether a families’ household income falls below a certain threshold as well as the material hardship and coping behaviors experienced by households unable to meet their basic needs. Effective approaches to increase access to federally funded meals have improved food security and health for school-aged children, but what about older youth who “age out” of federal programs when they turn 18? And are these efforts to increase participation in programs like summer meals and food stamps really addressing fundamental problems, or are they just working at the margins?

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Email: appliedresearch@jhu.edu 
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