Only 4% of Americans make it from the bottom to the top in income

A recent report from Pew suggests the rags-to-riches story is uncommon in American life:

While the U.S. is known as the land of opportunity — where everyone has an equal chance to succeed — one’s family’s socioeconomic status can impede success. A report from Pew’s Economic Mobility Project, a study assessing the health and status of the American dream, found that people raised in low-­income families often stay in the same economic bracket as their parents. Those raised in higher-income families stay up.

While 84 percent of Americans have higher family incomes than their parents, only 4 percent of those in lower-income families leaped to the top. The rags-to-riches story, the report said, happens in movies, but rarely in reality.

This isn’t the first source to argue this.

However, I wonder if this 4% really differs from what is displayed in American culture. How many books, movies, magazines, songs, and more suggest a rags-to-riches story? Many people have heard the name of Horatio Alger and his writings but how many American stories really follow this theme? How much does it differ from other cultures? If 84% of Americans do indeed have higher incomes than their parents, couldn’t there be some truth in cultural stories that depict “moving up” but not becoming fabulously wealthy? There would be ways to do a comprehensive study of American stories and media output to see how prevalent the “rags to riches” story really is but it would take a lot of work and simply counting numbers doesn’t easily translate into the impact a small amount of stories could have.

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