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Trends in U. S. family income mobility, 1969-2006

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  • Katharine Bradbury
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    Abstract

    Much of America's promise is predicated on economic mobility—the idea that people are not limited or defined by where they start, but can move up the economic ladder based on their efforts and accomplishments. Family income mobility—changes in individual families' income positions over time—is one indicator of the degree to which the eventual economic wellbeing of any family is tethered to its starting point. In the United States, family income inequality has risen from year to year since the mid-1970s; given this rising cross-sectional inequality, changes over time in mobility determine the degree to which long-term income is also increasingly unequally distributed. ; Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and a number of mobility concepts and measures drawn from the literature, this paper examines family income mobility levels and trends for U.S. working-age family heads and spouses during the time span 1969–2006, based on a post-tax, post-transfer concept of income adjusted for family size. By most measures, mobility is lower in more recent periods (1995–2005) than in the late seventies and the eighties (the 1977–1987 or 1981–1991 periods). Comparing results based on pre-government income suggests that an increasingly redistributive tax and transfer system contributed to rising mobility into the 1980s, but that its impact has since waned. Overall, the evidence indicates that over the 1969-to-2006 time span, family income mobility across the distribution decreased, families' later-year incomes increasingly depended on their starting place, and the distribution of families' lifetime incomes became less equal.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Boston in its series Working Papers with number 11-10.

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    Date of creation: 2011
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    Handle: RePEc:fip:fedbwp:11-10

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    Keywords: Income distribution ; Labor mobility ; Migration; Internal;

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    References

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    1. Richard V. Burkhauser & Shuaizhang Feng & Stephen P. Jenkins, 2009. "Using The P90-P10 Index To Measure U.S. Inequality Trends With Current Population Survey Data: A View From Inside The Census Bureau Vaults," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 55(1), pages 166-185, 03.
    2. Burkhauser, Richard V. & Smeeding, Timothy M. & Merz, Joachim, 1994. "Relative Inequality and Poverty in Germany and the United States Using Alternative Equivalence Scales," MPRA Paper 7229, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    3. Gary S. Field & Robert Duval Hernandez & Samuel Freije & Maria Laura Sanchez Puerta, 2007. "Intragenerational Income Mobility in Latin America," JOURNAL OF LACEA ECONOMIA, LACEA - LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN ECONOMIC ASSOCIATION.
    4. Robert Carroll & David Joulfaian & Mark Rider, 2006. "Income Mobility: The Recent American Experience," International Center for Public Policy Working Paper Series, at AYSPS, GSU paper0620, International Center for Public Policy, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University.
    5. Van Kerm, Philippe, 2003. "What Lies Behind Income Mobility? Reranking and Distributional Change in Belgium, Western Germany and the USA," IRISS Working Paper Series 2003-03, IRISS at CEPS/INSTEAD.
    6. Auten, Gerald & Gee, Geoffrey, 2009. "Income Mobility in the United States: New Evidence from Income Tax Data," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 62(2), pages 301-28, June.
    7. Bradbury,Bruce & Jenkins,Stephen P. & Micklewright,John (ed.), 2001. "The Dynamics of Child Poverty in Industrialised Countries," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521803106.
    8. Maury Gittleman & Mary Joyce, 1999. "Have family income mobility patterns changed?," Demography, Springer, vol. 36(3), pages 299-314, August.
    9. Bradbury,Bruce & Jenkins,Stephen P. & Micklewright,John (ed.), 2001. "The Dynamics of Child Poverty in Industrialised Countries," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521004923.
    10. Lynn Karoly & Gary Burtless, 1995. "Demographic change, rising earnings inequality, and the distribution of personal well-being, 1959–1989," Demography, Springer, vol. 32(3), pages 379-405, August.
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