Presidential Hopefuls Play Social Mobility Card Early in the White House Race

Brookings expert says education, family stability are the first rungs to climbing the economic ladder.

Brookings Institution

Four well-known presidential hopefuls have entered the 2016 White House race. Three Republicans and one Democrat. While common tropes when candidates enter the race, like the economy or adhering to the Constitution, are commonplace; social mobility, or the ability families or people to rise into a better economic class, has taken its place in the candidacy dialog. Joining Stephen to talk about this issue is Richard Reeves, a Senior Fellow in Economics Studies at the Brookings Institution.

Reeves says there are two main ways to look at social mobility. There is the idea that a person is better off than their parents and there is the idea people have moved up in class rank from one generation to another. He says Republicans tend to talk more about the first idea, the rising tide of economic growth that raises everyone’s income. Democrats also focus on people being trapped in their class, more specifically those trapped in poverty, according to Reeves.

“Republican candidates tend to avoid income inequality questions, they don’t see it as a gap between the rich and the poor, they’re much more about if you work hard can you get ahead,” says Reeves. “Where as democrats sometimes doing both. Everyone is in favor of getting ahead.”

Talking about concrete ways that people can get ahead Reeves says the single best ticket out of poverty is still a four year college degree. While college degrees are passports to the middle class, they are not passports many born into poverty  are able to get according to Reeves.

“Kids born in the bottom quarter of the income distribution, only about nine-percent of them go to college. That’s seven times less than if you were born at the top,” says Reeves.

Most of what is going on in the economy is hard to influence with policy, says Reeves. He also says it is important to know what type of income inequality policy is trying to address, is it trying to deal with poverty today or poverty tomorrow. No matter which is being tackled Reeves says we can not longer look away from this issue, it is now just a question of what to do about it. Any approach though needs to deal with the role that race plays in income inequality.

“The issue of social mobility is not just an issue of class in America it is also an question of race, and we have to confront that,” says Reeves.


You can read more from Richard Reeves and the Brooking Institution, here