What the reports tell us is that the vast majority of Americans have not bumped into income glass-ceilings, but rather are experiencing an astonishing pace of upward income mobility. The Census data from 1967 to 2004 provides the percentage of families that fall within various income ranges, starting at $0 to $5,000, $5,000 to $10,000, and so on, up to over $100,000 (all numbers here are adjusted for inflation). These data show, for example, that in 1967 only one in 25 families earned an income of $100,000 or more in real income, whereas now, one in six do. The percentage of families that have an income of more than $75,000 a year has tripled from 9% to 27%.
But it’s not just the rich that are getting richer. Virtually every income group has been lifted by the tide of growth in recent decades. The percentage of families with real incomes between $5,000 and $50,000 has been falling as more families move into higher income categories — the figure has dropped by 19 percentage points since 1967. This huge move out of lower incomes and into middle- and higher-income categories shows that upward mobility is the rule, not the exception, in America today.
The article concludes with,
The Census family-finances data corroborate the common-sense notion that by far the best long-term anti-poverty program is growth and avoidance of recession — because the downturns invariably hit the poor hardest. That’s why President Bush’s tax cuts should be extended: They have created a positive investment, jobs and growth climate that will, if history is any guide, reverse the recent uptick in poverty levels.
We can say with certainty that most working Americans are achieving levels of wealth and income that far surpass those of their parents. It’s reassuring to know that the U.S. is still the pre-eminent meritocracy, where economic success is still predominantly powered by hard work and saving, not inheritance and privilege.
Update: Economist Walter Williams has more.