Is America THE Land of Equal Opportunity?

The points in the slide below are from a course on political polarization. The question for credit unions might be how they can address the lack of mobility especially by the lower income quartiles?

Is this a community impact opportunity for cooperatives? How might it be measured?


  • Most people (even most Republicans) believe that the federal government should attempt to increase the equality of opportunity to get ahead.
  • Many people regard the U.S. as “The Land of Opportunity”
  • But many researchers have reached a conclusion that turns conventional wisdom on its head: Americans enjoy less economic mobility than their peers in Canada and much of Western Europe.
  • “It’s becoming conventional wisdom that the U.S. does not have as much mobility as most other advanced countries. I don’t think you’ll find too many people who will argue with that.” *
  • A project led by Markus Jantti, an economist at a Swedish university, found that 42 percent of American men raised in the bottom fifth of incomes stay there as adults. That shows a level of persistent disadvantage much higher than in Denmark (25 percent) and Britain (30 percent) — a country famous for its class constraints.
  • Meanwhile, just 8 percent of American men at the bottom rose to the top fifth. That compares with 12 percent of the British and 14 percent of the Danes.
  • While liberals often complain that the US has unusually large income gaps, many conservatives have argued that the system is fair because mobility is especially high, too: everyone can climb the ladder.
  • Now the evidence suggests that America is not only less equal, but also less mobile.

* Isabel V. Sawhill, an economist at the Brookings Institution

4 Replies to “Is America THE Land of Equal Opportunity?”

  1. I would argue all most all of this….but I like the fact you put this out there.

    There is a slant here that worries too much about where perfection is the goal, and disregards the fact that on a balanced scorecard the US exceeds ALL countries in this world for opportunity, freedom, and designs for individual rights to both.

    Opportunity, is not easy, it has to be harvested by effort, realized by overcoming factors hard to control, and be blessed by the serendipity of chance. But there is opportunity for all.

    Freedom that is based on free will first and foremost. Every individua’s right to navigate circumstances by their own design; circumstances that might never be easy. Circumstance never the same for all. But we are born to this country pointed up the hill and with the chance to match our will to overcome, free to choose our paths.

    We start with rights granted to us by our design, with rights that we can fight to modify for this and every future generation, and with design that most of the world simply does not have.

    I do agree that many people would debate the best ways to overcome their issues with our perfection and approaches to better approach perfection on these topics, but do not group me in the “most”, on the doubtful side of “many”, slanted surveys, or people that free that “less” means worse off.

    Count me on the side of “thank goodness for the fact that I was born here and given a chance to embrace it all.” Good luck, and almost nothing based on my control. The fate of life.

  2. I’m not sure where the “slant” is. These are objective studies. Just because the U.S. isn’t #1 doesn’t mean they’re slanted. It means the U.S. has work to do. Danes and Brits have the same free will we do–there are just other factors that currently allow them to turn that into upper mobility better.

  3. Two things to address here:

    1. All studies have a slant, and numbers are easily manipulated to give them a “slant” of the funding source for the survey. And I do think readers of survey’s do have to question the approaches and bigger facts in comparing unlike-things. And while a countries population might have similarities with other countries there are far more differences – it is worth some thought to the slants of the authors.

    2. I was not talking about the “slant of the survey’s” you seem to want to trust so confidently here. I was talking to the slant in Chips characterization of how people agree with the conclusions from the study – many, most, etc.

    And I was not worried about America being number 1 at anything, I was only saying I would not over emphasize any of these ideas for me as important, significant, or overriding my trust in the balance of the American model. I am a guy, countering Chips “most” or “many” based on these ideas.

    Now as to the point of Chip’s post – I do believe that credit unions and cooperatives do have a responsibility to the “one person” on the bottom rung. But probably no more responsibility to the “one person” who has a goal to move up from the second rung on the latter closer to the top. A cooperatives focus is one peer participant in their community at a time. A sincere dedication to the agenda of every person. Not to worry about political movements to lift only some.

  4. Let’s just throw out the whole comparison portion of the slide. Whether Denmark or Great Britain have higher upward mobility is has no bearing on what the U.S. is facing.

    I agree with you that the role of a cooperative is to serve all its members, not just a subset of them. It just so happens that those who benefit most are likely to be those from lower rungs, so credit unions should continue to focus on doing what they do. If credit unions become too focused on reaching some sort of measurable upward mobility goal, they risk falling into the surrogation trap, where the measure replaces the intent.

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