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The Paradox Of Mobility In America

We’re a species that has gotten around; we’ve wandered, pioneered and migrated to every corner of the world. The spear tip of technology is how we can get somewhere else: the wheel, the sailboat, the rocket. In short: we’re movers. We are

We’re a species that has gotten around; we’ve wandered, pioneered and migrated to every corner of the world. The spear tip of technology is how we can get somewhere else: the wheel, the sailboat, the rocket. In short: we’re movers.

We are now as mobile as we’ve ever been as a culture. Our phones are not tethered to any particular location. Our keepsakes, like photos and letters, are all saved on devices smaller than your average drugstore paperback. The bitter visual of a breakup – the splitting up of a couple’s CD collection – no longer exists since you both have copies of the same MP3s. Your computer fits comfortably in your lap – everything else is in your pocket. We now have the ability to go anywhere and bring with us more things utilizing less space than at any other time in human history.

We have the ability – the freedom – to roam more now than ever before. And yet our upward mobility is standing still.

Jason DeParle in The New York Times wrote in January this year, “Countries with less equality generally have less mobility.” And as Occupy Wall Street successfully pointed out the top one percent “earn” nearly a quarter of the nation’s income. While they have enjoyed an increase in wealth and a decrease in taxes, the rest of the country has seen a flattening of their prospects. The U.S. ranks near the bottom in income inequality and therefore upward mobility.

Time noted, “The Pew Charitable Trusts' Economic Mobility Project has found that if you were born in 1970 in the bottom one-fifth of the socioeconomic spectrum in the U.S., you had only about a 17 percent chance of making it into the upper two-fifths.”

Americans have mobile phones with immobile socioeconomics. Put that in your made-in-China travel mug and sip it.

Why is this so? There are many factors and usually when there is an issue with many factors it means there’s a partisan divide as to its “true” solution. Former Senator, former presidential candidate, Rick Santorum mentioned the lack of upward mobility but subscribed boilerplate Republican cure-alls like deregulating businesses and cutting taxes for corporations. Arguably if that helped upward mobility – we’d have upward mobility.

President Obama also talked about this fact earlier this month. “It is antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility for everyone who's willing to work for it – a place where prosperity doesn't trickle down from the top, but grows outward from the heart of the middle class,” said the President to a Florida audience.

He continued, “By gutting the very things we need to grow an economy that's built to last – education and training; research and development; infrastructure – it's a prescription for decline."

The real solution is probably in the middle – which is often ever so slightly to the left of President Obama’s positions.

Conservatives, like the government-helicopter-hopping, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will say it’s the safety net that has made us lazy waiting for government checks. But countries with a better current mobility rate (most of the industrialized world) will note their social safety net is what makes mobility possible for the lower classes.

One thing which is supposed to ensure you’ll do better than your parents is getting a better education. However, tuitions are rising, grants are shrinking and student loans are becoming a plague of post-collegiate living. College is no longer the class-lift it once was.

This is where we are as a nation: Your Android can go anywhere with you … just probably not into the upper middle-class.

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