Jan 25, 2020

The American Dream — in crisis

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The American Dream’s promise of a better life if you work hard enough is fracturing.

The big picture: Socioeconomic mobility in the U.S. is at its most sluggish in history. Not only are fewer Americans living better than their parents, but there’s also a growing number of people doing worse than their parents.

By the numbers:

  • The World Economic Forum released a report this week in Davos that ranked the United States 27th in the world for social mobility. The top five nations were Denmark, Norway, Finland. Sweden and Iceland.
  • In a recent study, researchers from UPenn, Northwestern, the University of Nebraska and the Census Bureau looked back as far as 1850 and concluded that socioeconomic mobility in America is at its worst ever.
  • Per the study, around 60% of people born in the 1940s did better than their parents, compared to 40% of those born in the 1980s.
  • And just 15% of 1940s kids lived worse than their parents, compared to 30% of people born in the 1980s.

"Most parents expect that their kids will do better than them," says Xi Song, a professor at UPenn and one of the researchers. But now that happens for less than half of kids.

There's a stark racial gap when it comes to mobility, Stanford law professor Ralph Richard Banks writes in a New York Times op-ed.

  • "Black boys who grow up rich are twice as likely as their white counterparts to end up poor."
  • "And of those black boys who start life poor, nearly half will remain so in adulthood, while more than 2 in 3 of their white peers will escape the poverty of their youth."

And mobility depends on where you grow up, too.

  • As we reported earlier this week, kids' earning potential and life expectancy hinge on the neighborhoods where they were born.
  • "For moving from the bottom of the income ladder to the top, the South offers the worst odds in the United States," per NYT.
  • On top of that, areas with low social mobility in the U.S. also have larger life expectancy gaps between the rich and the poor, per another UPenn study out this week.

The bottom line: Worsening income inequality paired with stagnant socioeconomic mobility is defining today's America. And these trends will impact everything from public health to how people vote in 2020.

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Ocean City in New Jersey on May 25. Photo: Donald Kravitz/Getty Images

Authorities urged Americans to maintain social distancing and wear masks to protect against the spread of the novel coronavirus amid reports of packed beaches and bars during the Memorial Day weekend.

Details: Law enforcement stepped up beach patrols, and there were crowded scenes in several places, notably at Lake of the Ozarks bars in Missouri and at Daytona Beach and on the Gulf Coast in Florida, per AP. Many people did take precautions against COVID-19, as Americans ventured outside for the long weekend some three months after the pandemic began to spread across the U.S

Coronavirus stay-at-home orders crater voter registration efforts

A volunteer looks for persons wanting to register to vote on July 4, 2019 in Santa Fe, N.M. Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic is scuppering usual "get out the vote" efforts, leading to fears that large swaths of Americans could miss out on this year's elections.

What’s happening: Advocacy groups typically target college campuses, churches, festivals, fairs and other gatherings to seek out people who have yet to register, but many of those places are now closed. Voter registration efforts have largely moved to the internet, but advocates question whether that will be as effective as the person-to-person pitch.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 5,471,768 — Total deaths: 344,911 — Total recoveries — 2,223,523Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 1,660,072 — Total deaths: 98,184 — Total recoveries: 379,157 — Total tested: 14,604,942Map.
  3. World: Italy reports lowest number of new cases since February — Ireland reports no new coronavirus deaths on Monday for the first time since March 21 — WHO suspends trial of hydroxychloroquine over safety concerns.
  4. 2020: Trump threatens to move Republican convention from North Carolina — Joe Biden makes first public appearance in two months.
  5. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks over Memorial Day.
  6. Economy: New York stock exchange to reopen its floor on Tuesday — White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Charities refocus their efforts to fill gaps left by government.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy