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Upward Mobility Commission

The American dream is about upward mobility. It's a belief that with a reasonable amount of effort and prudence, you can get ahead — a belief that you have a realistic shot at being better off than your parents were.

The 2008-09 economic crisis and sluggish recovery put a dent in the dream for millions of Americans, particularly those just entering the labor market. But there is a deeper problem. Since the late 1970s, the incomes of Americans on the lower half of the income ladder have grown slowly. At the same time, Americans who grow up in low-income households face long odds of reaching the middle class, and those odds haven't improved in the past generation. Slow income growth and inequality of opportunity endanger the American dream of upward mobility.

The Yankelovich Center has formed a commission to recommend evidence-based strategies for increasing upward mobility. There is no shortage of proposed solutions. What we lack, and what policy makers most need, is information about the relative merits of such strategies.

The director of the project is Lane Kenworthy. Kenworthy studies the causes and consequences of living standards, poverty, inequality, mobility, employment, economic growth, social policy, taxes, public opinion, and politics in the United States and other affluent countries. His books include The Good Society, How Big Should Our Government Be? (2016), Social Democratic America (2014), Progress for the Poor (2011), Jobs with Equality (2008), Egalitarian Capitalism (2004), and In Search of National Economic Success (1995). Kenworthy is professor of sociology and Yankelovich Chair in Social Thought at UC San Diego.

The other members of the commission are:

  • Amanda Datnow, UC San Diego, Education Studies
  • Greg Duncan, UC Irvine, Education
  • Susan Dynarski, University of Michigan, Economics and Public Policy
  • Kathryn Edin, Johns Hopkins University, Sociology
  • Ron Haskins, Brookings Institution
  • Timothy Smeeding, University of Wisconsin, Public Policy
  • Bruce Western, Harvard University, Sociology

Experts from around the country will draw on social science research to estimate the likely impact of strategies to increase the degree to which economic growth reaches middle- and lower-income households:

  • Reduce the influence of the "shareholder value" orientation in publicly-owned firms: William Lazonick, University of Massachusetts-Lowell, Economics
  • Achieve sustained labor market tightness ("full employment"): Jared Bernstein and Ben Spielberg, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; Keith Bentele, University of Massachusetts-Boston, Sociology
  • Increase the federal minimum wage: Jeffrey Clemens, University of California-San Diego, Economics
  • Increase unionization: Tali Kristal, University of Haifa, Sociology
  • Increase profit sharing: Joseph Blasi and Douglas Kruse, Rutgers University, Management and Labor Relations

Others will estimate the likely impact of strategies to improve opportunity for persons from less-advantaged backgrounds:

  • Expand high-quality publicly-funded early education (child care and preschool): Katherine Magnuson, University of Wisconsin, Social Work
  • Reduce funding inequality across K-12 public schools: Julien LaFortune, University of California-Berkeley, Economics, PhD candidate
  • Expand access to K-12 charter schools: Sarah Cohodes, Teachers College Columbia University, Education and Public Policy
  • Reduce the cost of college for students from less-advantaged backgrounds: Lindsay Page, University of Pittsburgh, Learning Research and Development Center
  • Expand apprenticeship programs for students who don't enter college: Harry Holzer, Georgetown University, Public Policy
  • Increase the share of children who grow up in a home with parental stability and/or two parents: Daniel Schneider, University of California-Berkeley, Sociology
  • Increase government transfers to low-income households with children: Kathleen Ziol-Guest, New York University, Education and Social Policy
  • Facilitate movement to better neighborhoods: Patrick Sharkey, New York University, Sociology

The commission will use these estimates to formulate policy recommendations.