Noah Kristula-Green, based on data from Pew, showing how likely Americans born in each quintile of income are to end up in each quintile. As you can see, there is quite a lot of mobility, except that 41% of those born at the bottom end up at the bottom and 41% of those born at the top end up at the top.
On a more personal level, I see that children born into the 4th quintile have an 11 percent chance of ending up at the bottom, where some of my own offspring seem to be headed. Entirely by their own choice, I might note. One thing missing from most discussions of income mobility in America is this element of choice. I could easily have ended up in the top quintile had I really wanted to, but I didn't, and there are plenty of middle class kids who slide down the ladder because they refuse to pay the price of middle class membership.
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I can think of several good reasons why the subject of choice doesn't come up more often in this area.
1. If you say that choice plays a role, some of the left and some on the right will think you're a racist (and the latter will think you're one of them).
2. Some on the left and some on the right will think you're a savage Ayn Randian (and the latter will think you're one of them).
3. For many, perhaps most, middle class parents and their downwardly-mobile children, this will be a painful subject fraught with bitterness and rage.
4. For many, perhaps most, middle class parents of still-growing children, this will be a subject likely to send them into fits of stark raving terror.
5. For many (though not necessarily most) downwardly-mobile middle class children, choice will be a debatable term for addiction, mental illness, teen pregnancy, domestic abuse, etc., etc.; and so see points 1-4 above (and the people on the right will think you're one of them).
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