Another Thought on Economic Mobility

Gerald Auten and Geoffrey Gee wrote about “Income Mobility in the United States: New Evidence from Income Tax Data.”  It’s an extensive paper; I’m abstracting a couple of points in this post [emphasis added].

  • More than half of taxpayers…moved to a different income quintile over this period [1996-2005]. About half…of those in the bottom income quintile in 1996 moved to a higher income group by 2005.
  • Median incomes of taxpayers in the sample increased by 24% after adjusting for inflation. The real incomes of two–thirds of all taxpayers increased over this period.  Furthermore, the median incomes of those initially in the lowest income groups increased more in per centage terms than the median incomes of those in the higher income groups.  In contrast, the real median incomes of taxpayers who were in the highest income groups in 1996 declined by 2005.
  • The composition of the very top income groups changed dramatically over time.  Less than half…of those in the top 1% in 1996 were still in the top 1% in 2005.  Less than one–fourth of the individuals in the top 1/100th% in 1996 remained in that group in 2005.

Those evil 1%-ers not only had trouble staying in the 1%, a significant fraction of them were erstwhile bottom%-ers.

Taking economic mobility—income changes—relative to all taxpayers, Auten and Gee found this:

  • About 56% of taxpayers…in the lowest income quintile in 1996 had moved to a higher quintile by 2005.  While 29% moved up to the second quintile, nearly as many (27.4%) moved up two or more quintiles and 4.5% moved all the way to the top quintile.
  • More than twice as many middle–income taxpayers moved up to a higher income quintile…as dropped to a lower one[.]

Thomas Sowell had this comment on the matter three years ago:

Only by focusing on the income brackets, instead of the actual people moving between those brackets, have the intelligentsia been able to verbally create a “problem” for which a “solution” is necessary.  They have created a powerful vision of “classes” with “disparities” and “inequities” in income, caused by “barriers” created by “society.”  But the routine rise of millions of people out of the lowest quintile over time makes a mockery of the “barriers” assumed by many, if not most, of the intelligentsia.

And now comes President Barack Obama and his Democratic Party colleagues decrying exactly that static income inequality folderol in the middle of their failed economic recovery and the outcomes of their failed social control policies.  Truly, they are desperate to change the subject in this election year.

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