Roundtable: Inequality and Intergenerational Mobility In the United States
(Social & Family Policy)

Thursday, November 8, 2012: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
Pratt A (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Organizers:  Timothy Smeeding, Institute for Research on Poverty
Speakers:  Scott Winship, Joint Economic Committee, Bhash Mazumder, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Timothy Smeeding, Institute for Research on Poverty
Moderators:  Lane Kenworthy, University of Arizona

The premise of the roundtable is that of all of the potential consequences of rising economic inequality, many believe that none is more worrisome than the prospect that rising inequality will have the long-run effect of reducing intergenerational mobility (IGM) and with it equality of opportunity. The reasoning underlying this worry is as follows. Families clearly have a strong interest in investing in the future social and economic well-being of their children. Although some of these investments may not require financial resources, many others obviously do – among them, paying for quality childcare and early childhood education, buying books and computers, living in higher-priced neighborhoods with access to good public schools, assisting with college costs, and providing support for young adults to help them get started in their independent economic lives once their education is completed. And as financial resources have become more unequal over the last three decades, the difference in the capacities of rich, middle class and poor families to invest in their children also have become more unequal, in a period where relatively more educational investment seems to be needed to meet ongoing labor market changes . If so, and unless inequities are offset by public policies designed to moderate their effects, the children of the rich will have a much better chance of staying rich in the future, equality of opportunity will be reduced , and the children of the poor will have less of chance of escaping poverty or low socio-economic status (SES). But while inequality is rising, not everyone believes that this will create less IGM. Indeed, the evidence on this question is varied and can lead to different conclusions. Each of the three panelists has been working on the answer to these questions and they do not agree on either the conclusion or the policy implications. Scott Winship, the former research director of the Pew Economic Mobility Project (EMP) now at Brookings does not believe that inequality has diminished opportunities. Bhash Mazumder and Tim Smeeding, members of the EMP advisory board believe otherwise. Each has written on the topic and all three have current and forthcoming work that sheds light on the answer to the question. In this age of scarce resources for public investments in human capital especially for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, the answer to the question is intergenerational mobility declining is crucial for informing education policy priorities and scale of public vs. private investments in human capital and child development. Lane Kenworthy who is also writing on the effects of inequality on social outcomes has agreed to moderate the panel .Each presenter will begin with a short summary of their position and the moderator will encourage reaction and discussion amongst the panel and from the audience.

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