Stalled Mobility

Some people are born great,
Some achieve greatness,
And some have greatness thrust upon them.

I've written previously on tompeters.com about how our modern take on these lines from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night is so different from that of the Elizabethan audiences who originally heard them. They believed you had to be born into greatness, we believe that people can pull themselves up by their bootstraps to a higher station in life.

A fascinating—and somewhat disheartening—series this week in the New York Times challenges our current beliefs about "Class in America." Class is defined as the combination of education, income, occupation and wealth. The first installment, published Sunday, told how, in the last three decades, there is far less movement up and down the economic ladder than economists once thought. People of all economic strata, including those less fortunate, believe that it's possible to rise to a higher station in life through your own initiative, but the fact is that it has become less common in our society. Why? Well, it may be that the most important choice you ever don't get to make is who your parents are, and what kind of opportunities they make possible for you. What does this say about the "American Dream?"

Monday's article showed how healthcare is not distributed equally by class, but in fact has become a good that is disproportionately distributed to the wealthy, similar to "BMWs and goat cheese." The story follows 3 New York heart attack victims, a wealthy architect, a Con Ed worker, and a cleaning woman, describing the astounding differences in their experiences.

Do these findings surprise you? Is there a gap between perceived and real equal opportunity in our society?

The next installment is tomorrow (Thursday).