Poll: Is America still a land of opportunity?

The median income for Americans has dropped for two years in a row. The income gap between the wealthiest and the poorest has widened to levels not seen since 1928. And Lane Kenworth, in Foreign Affairs, reports that Americans have less equality of opportunity than those in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. He writes:

Left unchecked, the trend threatens not only to offset the progress the United States has made on gender and racial equality but also to usher in a future of deep and hardened class divisions.

Can an American born into a poor, uneducated family climb the social and economic ladders?

We’ll discuss economic and social mobility in the United States on Wednesday, January 9.

  • Michael

    No. The US has less opportunity and upward mobility than our friends in Canada, the UK, and France. It’s statistically proved. You’re parents’ wealth has more to do with where you end up in life than in these other countries.

  • Why ask a poll question when there is a clear, objective answer?

  • James (Rochester)

    I would have selected “Don’t Know” had the option been available. There are still people from other countries coming here and making lives better than possible in their old countries. Based on their experiences, I would have to say “yes.”

    However, based on my own, I would have to say “no.” I left college and went to a “business school.” I worked as a professional for many years, but left due to family circumstances. I then returned to college, which gave me the ability to be a lot better in my profession than I had been. But, I was unable to find employment for which I was trained. On MPR and NPR discussion programs, I’ve heard of others in similar situations.

    Hiring managers don’t want the best talent, they want to hire those who make them most comfortable.

  • Paul – Duluth, MN

    It really depends on what you mean by “opportunity”. The simple answer “yes” can be used if you are: a foreign company with something to sell; a drug (narcotic or prescription) seller, manufacturer, or user; an insurance company; a credit company; fuel supplier. The opposing answer of “no” can relate to virtually everything else. But having opportunity means nothing without ambition, which is apparently lacking in the American population. With most of the available jobs being a salesperson for imported goods, there is no drive to create anymore. We have become irreversibly compliant with our current lifestyle: education, debt, menial employment, death – all while paying ridiculous interest and insurance premiums. Opportunity – no. Mediocrity – yes.

  • Gordon near Two Harbors

    Most places were once the “land of opportunity” or people would never have moved there in the first place. America is quickly becoming like Europe in many ways, as our population continues to increase, our open spaces fill in with sprawl, and our natural resources get depleted.

    At some point you have to ask “How many people is too many?” or “Will my kids and grandkids have as many opportunities as I do?”. Of course, it’s all a matter of perspective. If you are a recent arrival from some worn-out, over-populated land, then America is still a paradise. If your kin have been here for generations, you might mourn the loss of many good things–like being able to afford a lake cabin on a working person’s wages or being able to walk through the heart of any urban area without the fear of being
    attacked. Is spending hours every work day commuting among the teaming masses to some cookie-cutter, suburban home you can barely afford the good life? I don’t know. Again, it’s all a matter of perspective.

    America is still just a grand experiment in the making. There will be a lot of soul-searching when we wake up one morning realizing that we have become what our ancestors strove to leave behind.

  • lawrence

    I’m going to give a more straight forward answer than my colleague Gordon from Two Harbors gave: which is America simultanouesly is becoming less of a land of opportunity because we bought into the ethos that corporate America HAS ALL THE ANSWERS and that divisions among Americans is a good thing. Corporate America exists to do one thing and one thing only, make money for its investors. To do that, they have done whatever it takes, moving jobs overseas, selling us a bunch of things we can’t afford and probably don’t need, influencing legislation at the state and federal levels, and even getting us, the voters, to argue about taxes, government spending, and school choice. While we’re down here arguing about this stuff, the corporations are laughing their butts off because they will ensure loopholes absolve them of any community responsibility. To make matters worse, some of the people who think they are doing well (but could do even better if they sided with us folks at the bottom) SIDE WITH the corporations. Feeling above the bottom trough, they move out, generally to suburbia, but sometimes further out than that, and fight at the state level to keep all of their resources tied into their private island community with all the other people of their social distinction. What these folks still don’t realize is that the super rich corporations are coming for them too because they are the folks that weigh down the corporations pay structure with their exorbitant salary and lifestyle. The poor urban worker or illegal immigrant is just what the corporations generally want because they know they can pay them less. It’s just a matter of time really before