Category Archives: ABC News

Stalled upward social mobility in America [UPDATED 2/14/12]

Flickr photo by AtleBrunvoll

Rana Foroohar’s cover story in TIME (Nov. 2011) is entitled What Ever Happened to Upward Mobility? Her answer is that it has stalled in the US and fallen behind rates of upward mobility in the US, Sweden or Denmark.  According to Foroohar (and based on a Pew study), a male born in the 1970s into the bottom fifth of the wealth distribution had only a 17% chance of making it to the top wealth quintile.  And while 50% of young males in this low-wealth quintile remained stuck there in the US, it was only 30% in UK or 25% in Denmark and Sweden, so upward mobility was much higher in those nations.  [Swedish economist Markus Jantti led the research project that uncovered these numbers.]

Foroohar (after consulting experts from places like Goldman Sachs) says that China and other emerging countries are driving inequality by taking away good middle class US jobs.   Foroohar believes that the answer lies in more progressive tax rates (with fewer loopholes) and greater investments in public education (which is the engine of economic mobility).

Fareed Zakaria also has three pieces on this: “The Downward Path of Upward Mobility” (Wash. Post op-ed, 11/10/11), a CNN video entitled “Fix Education, Restore Social Mobility” (about how lack of investment in education causing stagnating upward mobility is at heart of Occupy Wall Street movement), and “When will we learn” (TIME, 11/14/11).

Bhaskar Mazumder, of the Chicago Fed, highlights research that he believes shows a decrease in US social mobility from 1980-1990 and then growing less rapidly from 1990-2000 (based on studies of brothers). Mazumder notes that mobility measures are by methodological approach “backward-looking” since they impose a several decade lag before one learns of corrosive influences in society for social mobility; he  notes  that “the gap in children’s academic performance between high- and low-income families has widened significantly over the last few decades. If this trend persists, it would point to reduced intergenerational economic mobility going forward.”

We have been doing work on the connection between income inequality and social inequality among youth (that exacerbates the test score gaps) and will report on that later, but suffice it say that we find a connection between the “blue inequality” (income inequality) and “red inequality” (the ability of college graduates to pass on advantages from a generation to another) that David Brooks writes about.

In November 2011, a variety of non-profit, corporate, academic and media leaders convened to discuss social mobility in the Opportunity Nation summit.  Opportunity Nation has released an Opportunity Index that enables you look state by state or county by county to see how that locality is doing in terms of economic opportunity. And you can see videos of some of the speakers here.  Rick Warren cited an eye-opening statistic: 25% of Anglo kids, 50% of Hispanic kids, & 75% of black kids are growing up today without a stable father in the home (these are out of wedlock births).  This work is picked up in Charles Murray’s Coming Apart and in Nick Kristoff’s “The White Underclass“.

And interestingly, even conservative media venues like the National Review and the FrumForum (here and here) are discussing the decline of social mobility as noted in “Harder for Americans to Rise From Lower Rungs“, citing Republican experts like John Bridgeland.  Even Presidential candidate Rick Santorum has admitted that social mobility up into the middle class is higher in Europe than in the US. Excerpt from Scott Winship’s piece in the National Review here:

The Economic Mobility Project/Brookings analyses break the parent and child generations into fifths on the basis of each generation’s income distribution. If being raised in the bottom fifth were not a disadvantage and socioeconomic outcomes were random, we would expect to see 20 percent of Americans who started in the bottom fifth remain there as adults, while 20 percent would end up in each of the other fifths. Instead, about 40 percent are unable to escape the bottom fifth. This trend holds true for other measures of mobility: About 40 percent of men will end up in low-skill work if their fathers had similar jobs, and about 40 percent will end up in the bottom fifth of family wealth (as opposed to income) if that’s where their parents were.

Is 40 percent a good or a bad number? On first reflection, it may seem impressive that 60 percent of those starting out in the bottom make it out. But most of them do not make it far out. Only a third make it to the top three fifths. Whether this is a level of upward mobility with which we should be satisfied is a question usefully approached by way of the following thought experiment: If you’re reading this essay, chances are pretty good that your household income puts you in one of the top two fifths, or that you can expect to be there at age 40. (We’re talking about roughly $90,000 for an entire household.) How would you feel about your child’s having only a 17 percent chance of achieving the equivalent status as an adult? That’s how many kids with parents in the bottom fifth around 1970 made it to the top two-fifths by the early 2000s. In fact, if the last generation is any guide, your child growing up in the top two-fifths today will have a 60 percent chance of being in the top two fifths as an adult. That’s the impact of picking the right parents — increasing the chances of ending up middle- to upper-middle class by a factor of three or four.

See somewhat related Social Capital blog piece on increased residential income segregation.

Read Paul Krugman’s excellent “We are the 99.9%” (NYT, 11/24/11)

Read Nick Kristof’s excellent piece “Occupy the Agenda” (NY Times, 11/19/11)

Listen to Steven Haider (Michigan State Univ. economist) on Michigan Public Radio (11/18/11) discussing the myth of upward mobility in America.

Other pieces on this topic:

TIME Magazine: “The Land of Opportunity” by Richard Stengel, 11/14/11

Washington Post-ABC News Poll: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/polls/postabcpoll_110311.html   [see questions 16-18]

December 2011 OECD report Divided We Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising on how inequality among OECD countries is at a record high over the past 30 years and demands action.

The reports that Zakaria uses to show that mobility is lower in US than in Europe are:
– OECD 2010 report: http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/2/7/45002641.pdf
– German Institute for the Study of Labor report (2006): http://ftp.iza.org/dp1938.pdf

– Professor Miles Corak (economist at Univ. of Ottawa) compared rates of mobility in a review of over 50 studies spanning nine countries.

– See Scott Winship’s testimony to Senate Budget Committee (Feb. 9, 2012) on inequality and social mobility, and see Jared Bernstein’s and Heather Boushey’s as well.

Two of most startling charts of testimony were one by CBO showing how the income of the top 1% is the one cohort that has done well over the last 40 years in the US economy:

And one showing that, unlike in most countries where progressive taxation is used to curb the excessive inequalities of the market and ease the distribution somewhat, the tax and transfer system in the US actually make inequality WORSE.

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Voter-gauged election fairness

(photo by danostuporstar)

(photo by danostuporstar)

My colleague Archon Fung has a new web-based project (in conjunction with ABC News) called My Fair Election to enable voters to rate how fair their voting experience was.

I’ve blogged before about how citizens could be on the front-lines in monitoring global warming or bird patterns or even improving GPS systems.  (See related post here.)  Now citizens can be at the forefront of helping to monitor our election process.

The My Fair Election website says “Rate your polling place and your experience of voting here. Was it easy to vote? Were there long lines, closed polling places, or broken machines? Your rating and those of thousands of other voters will produce a real-time map of voting conditions throughout the country on November 4, 2008. Sign up now, and you will receive an email message with instructions for submitting your own rating after you vote.”

My Fair Election enables American citizens or journalists or politicians to see where there are concentrations of voting unfairness or irregularity and enables high level of citizen-observed unfairness in the election process to trigger investigations into asserted irregularities.  One could also see the day after the election from the “Weather Map of Election Fairness” we collectively create whether concentrations of voting unfairness occurred in certain states or traditionally Blue vs. Red areas.

So don’t only vote on November 4, but sign up at My Fair Election and get your friends (in lots of different places) to sign up as well.  Together we can all hold the voting system accountable and we can add a layer of transparency to our voting process.

Note: other parallel efforts (although not enabling one to map the infractions) are a service which Twitter offered called Vote Report and Video Your Vote (a YouTube) effort enabling voters to upload a video of their voting experience.

Randy Pausch notable quotes, excerpts from Last Lecture

In Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture at Carnegie Mellon University in the Fall of 2007, facing pancreatic cancer and the likelihood that he would only live a month or two, Randy summed up his life’s wisdom for his kids (then 1,2, and 5). He gave his lecture to several hundred in a CMU auditorium, but it has now been viewed on YouTube by millions of Americans.  It’s enormously inspiring, tear-rendering and well worth your time if you haven’t seen it.

His Last Lecture is now fleshed out in a book of the same name (co-written with Jeff Zaslow, the WSJ reporter that brought his lecture to widespread prominence) and he recently filmed an ABC News Special with Diane Sawyer. His comments are immensely wise for a 47 year old.

Randy Pausch alas died in his home last night (July 25, 2008) as reported by Diane Sawyer on GMA. Randy Pausch’s home page is here.

He lived a vibrant life to the end, giving a charge to the graduating seniors at his beloved Carnegie Mellon University just in June 2008

and providing moving testimony to Congress on supporting pancreatic cancer research to help future innocent victims (3/13/08).

Notable quotes:

  • When there’s an elephant in the room introduce him
  • Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want something badly enough. They are there to keep out the other people.
  • If there’s anything I want to do so badly, I should have already done it.
  • We can’t change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand. If I’m not as depressed as you think I should be, I’m sorry to disappoint you.
  • Work and play well together.
    – Tell The Truth. All The Time. No one is pure evil.
    – Be willing to apologize. Proper apologies have three parts: 1) What I did was wrong. 2) I’m sorry that I hurt you. 3) How do I make it better? It’s the third part that people tend to forget…. Apologize when you screw up and focus on other people, not on yourself.
    – Show gratitude. Gratitude is a simple but powerful thing.
    – Find the best in everybody…. Wait long enough, and people will surprise and impress you. It might even take years, but people will show you their good side. Just keep waiting.
    – If you want to achieve your dreams, you better learn to work and play well with others…[you have] to live with integrity.
  • Collaboration, treating others with respect.
    – Never found anger a way to make things better.
    – How do you get people to help you? You can’t get there alone. People have to help you and I do believe in karma. I believe in paybacks. You get people to help you by telling the truth. Being earnest. I’ll take an earnest person over a hip person any day, because hip is short term. Earnest is long term.
    – Loyalty is a two-way street.
    – Get a feedback loop and listen to it. Your feedback loop can be this dorky spreadsheet thing I did, or it can just be one great man who tells you what you need to hear. The hard part is the listening to it.
  • Persistence and hard work.
    – When you are doing something badly and no one’s bothering to tell you anymore, that’s a very bad place to be. Your critics are the ones still telling you they love you and care.
    – Don’t bail: the best gold is at the bottom of barrels of crap
    – Don’t complain, Just work harder. [showing picture on screen] That’s a picture of Jackie Robinson. It was in his contract not to complain, even when the fans spit on him. You can spend it complaining or playing the game hard. The latter is likely to be more effective.
    – Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted…. I probably got more from that dream [of playing professional football] and not accomplishing it than I got from any of the ones that I did accomplish.
  • Fun, wonder, living your dream.
    – Decide if you’re a Tigger or an Eyeore. I’m a Tigger.
    – It is not about achieving your dreams but living your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself, the dreams will come to you.
    – Never underestimate the importance of having fun. I’m dying and I’m having fun. And I’m going to keep having fun every day, because there’s no other way to play it….Having fun for me is like a fish talking about the importance of water. I don’t know how it is like not to have fun…
    – Never lose the child-like wonder. It’s just too important. It’s what drives us. Help others.
  • Risk-taking.
    – You can tell the pioneers by the arrows in their backs. But at the end of the day, a whole lot of people will have a whole lot of fun.
    – Better to fail spectacularly than do something mediocre. [Randy Pausch gave out a First Penguin award each year when he was teaching to the biggest failure in trying something big and new because he thought this should be celebrated. First Penguins are the ones that risk that the water might be too cold.]
  • Parenting and kids.
    – The best piece of parenting advice I’ve ever heard is from flight attendants. If things get really tough, grab your own oxygen mask first.
    About his pancreatic cancer: It’s unlucky, but it not unfair. We all stand on a dartboard and some of us randomly get hit by pancreatic cancer. But my children won’t have me for them and that’s not fair.
    – Someone’s going to push my family off a cliff pretty soon and I won’t be there to catch them and that breaks my heart. But I have some time to sew some nets to cushion the fall so that seems like the best and highest use of my time and I better get to work.
    – I’m sorry I won’t be around to raise my kids. It makes me very sad but I can’t change that fact, so I did everything I could with the time I have and the time I had to help other people.
    – Importance of people instead of things. Told story of buying new convertible that he was so proud of and taking niece and nephew for a ride. Randy’s sister, the kid’s mother was telling them how important it was to keep car pristine and kids were laughing because at the same time he was pouring a can of orange soda on the back seats. His sister asked what are you doing and he said “it’s just a thing.” And nephew Chris wound up being really grateful because he had flu and wound up throwing up on way home. “And I don’t care how much joy you get out of owning a shiny new thing; it’s not as good I felt from making sure that an 8 year old didn’t have to feel guilty for having the flu.”
    – [not a direct quote] but Randy implores parents to always indulge your children’s wild ideas (he talks about how important it was that his parents let him decorate his walls with math formulas, despite the negative impact on their house’s resale value) He says: “If you’re going to have childhood dreams you should have great parents who let you pursue them and express your creativity.”
    – It is Important to have specific childhood dreams. (For example, Randy wanted to play football in the NFL, write an article for the World Book Encyclopedia, experience the Weightlessness of Zero Gravity, be Captain Kirk from Star Trek, work for the Disney Company.)
  • Be good at something; it makes you valuable…. Have something to bring to the table, because that will make you more welcome.
  • I’ve never understood pity and self-pity as an emotion. We have a finite amount of time. Whether short or long, it doesn’t matter. Life is to be lived.
  • To be cliché, death is a part of life and it’s going to happen to all of us. I have the blessing of getting a little bit of advance notice and I am able to optimize my use of time down the home stretch.

Randy Pausch’s passing away and legacy

Many people wish to know inspiring Randy Pausch’s current medical condition. Alas he passed away last night at home in Virginia early on July 25, 2008 from pancreatic cancer at the age of 47.  Here are the 8 ways I see him influencing my life (his legacy).

I wrote about his amazing Carnegie Mellon University “Last Lecture” earlier (which has been viewed by more than 6,000,000 Americans. I also wrote how he has lived to fulfill his last unfulfilled dream of playing with a professional football team. [Randy was the head teaching assistant when I was a teaching assistant in an introductory computer class at Brown University some years back.]

He lived a bright life to the end, he went back in June to give a charge to the graduating seniors at his beloved Carnegie Mellon University. Randy who called himself an “accidental celebrity” and says there are not many of these for pancreatic cancer since people don’t survive long enough for there to be a Michael J. Fox, mustered the energy, in March, 2008, to testify powerfully and movingly before Congress on pancreatic cancer research.

Pausch noted that no progress has been made on pancreatic cancer research in the last 30 years and there is now a far better chance of living with AIDS than pancreatic cancer. Randy noted that pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths, a disease which strikes innocent victims: Randy exercised, ate right, didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, but still contracted this disease. Randy Pausch thinks we can protect ourselves from this disease but not without dramatically increased funding for research. The disease is genetic and he goes to sleep at night fearing whether kids (ages 2-9) have this genetic marker, although he hoped with dramatically increased funding for pancreatic cancer research that by the time any of his kids get this disease (which usually strikes later in life), doctors will know how to cure it through genetic treatment.

See notable quotes from Randy here and his life wisdom here.

Note: Randy’s book The Last Lecture (Hyperion Press) was released (April 8, 2008), co-written with WSJ reporter Jeff Zaslow. See Randy’s video about the book and preview of interview with Diane Sawyer of ABC News special about the book (airing April 10, 2008).

Postscript: Inspiring Randy Pausch lives to fulfills dream of playing with NFL team, updated

I wrote earlier about Randy Pausch, dying of cancer, who gave an inspirational and wonderful ‘last lecture’ at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) where he taught. See blog post here.

He mentioned that the ONE dream that he hadn’t fulfilled was playing professional football, asserting that he had nonetheless learned many lessons from his football coach in the chasing of that dream. Now Randy has ‘played’ professional football, as he practiced recently with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He promised them that if they made it into the Super Bowl he’d still be alive to see it. [Randy fulfilled his end of the bargain; the Steelers however didn’t make it into the Super Bowl XLII which saw the scrappy NY Giants buck the heavily favorite New England Patriots, a thrilling game but one that left Pats fans wincing in the final seconds where the title miraculously slid from their certain grasp; Eli Manning eluded an all-but-certain sack and David Tyree made a how-did-he-do-it catch..]

See notable quotes from Randy here.  See Randy’s legacy for me in life lessons.

Read story “Dying Professor Tackles Final Dream” here.

Note: Randy Pausch is still alive but reports complications that required him to go back into the hospital on March 8, 2008. The great news is that he has beaten the 3-6 months that doctors gave him to live back on August 15, 2007; the bad news is that his body has hard a hard time tolerating the chemotherapy. Bad news: His pancreatic cancer has metastasized to his spleen and liver; doctors say he has a 100% chance of dying, it is just a question of when. Most doctors think he will be dead by the end of 2008. And the news as of July 24, 2008 is that the cancer is progressing as posted on Randy’s website. “A biopsy last week revealed that the cancer has progressed further than we had thought from recent PET scans. Since last week, Randy has also taken a step down and is much sicker than he had been. He’s now enrolled in hospice. He’s no longer able to post here so I’m a friend posting on his behalf because we know what many folks are watching this space for updates.”

He testified back in March 2008 in front of Congress on pancreatic cancer. Updates on Randy Pausch’s condition can be found here and his home page is here (which also has a video of him testifying before Congress on March 13, 2008). [Pausch notes that no progress has been made on pancreatic cancer research in the last 30 years and there is now a far better chance of living with AIDS than pancreatic cancer. His pancreatic cancer has metastasized to spleen and liver; doctors say he has a 100% chance of dying, it is just a question of when. Most doctors think he will be dead by end of the year. Randy notes that pancreatic cancer is a disease which strikes innocent victims: he exercised, ate right, didn’t smoke, but still contracted this disease. Randy Pausch thinks we can protect ourselves from this disease but not without dramatically increased funding for research. The disease is genetic and he goes to sleep at night fearing whether kids (ages 2-9) have this genetic marker although he hopes with dramatically increased funding for pancreatic cancer research that by the time any of his kids get this disease (which usually strikes later in life), doctors will know how to cure it through genetic treatment.]

Update: Randy’s book The Last Lecture (Hyperion Press) has now been released (April 8, 2008), co-written with WSJ reporter Jeff Zaslow. See Randy’s video about the book and preview of interview with Diane Sawyer of ABC News special about the book (airing April 10, 2008).

Life’s wisdom from Randy Pausch

Randy Pausch, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, who is imminently dying from pancreatic cancer but still quite alive, gave a ‘last lecture’ (i.e., what lecture would you give if you had only one last chance to give a lecture). He was at Brown University a bit ahead of me and I was a teaching assistant to him in a computer class, but never knew him that well; obviously my loss!

It’s funny, poignant, touching and all about living life to its fullest with humanity. Among his wise takeaways from his life thusfar are:

1. Brick walls aren’t meant to keep us from doing things but to separate the ones who REALLY want to do something (those who find a way around the brick wall) from those who don’t (those who give up)
2. Hold on to our “wonder” as we lose our chance to dream of greater things when we lose our wonder.
3. Experience is the wisdom we learn from failing to initially achieve what we wanted.
and many more…

See notable quotes from Randy here.

A heavily abridged 11 minute version of the lecture was given in April 2008 on Oprah.

Original 76 minute lecture available in ten different parts:

part 0
part 1 (Achieving Your Childhood Dreams)
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5
part 6
part 7
part 8
part 9
part 10

Transcript of the Last Lecture available here.

And story also described in a Wall Street Journal column “A Beloved Professor Delivers The Lecture of a Lifetime” (WSJ, 9/20/07, p. D1 by Jeff Zaslow in his Moving On column). If not available there, you can also try here (for text and a 4 minute video story).

Note: Randy’s book The Last Lecture (Hyperion Press) has now been released (April 8, 2008), co-written with WSJ reporter Jeff Zaslow. See Randy’s video about the book and preview of interview with Diane Sawyer of ABC News special about the book (airing April 10, 2008). He published an abridgment in Parade Magazine in April 2008.

Updates on Randy Pausch’s condition can be found here and his home page is here (which also has a video of him testifying before Congress on March 13, 2008).