Study: Climbing income ladder hasn’t grown harder


WASHINGTON — Young Americans from low-income families are as likely to move into the ranks of the affluent today as those born in the 1970s, according to a report by several top academic experts on inequality.

The study, published this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, runs counter to the widespread belief that a widening gap between rich and poor has made it harder to climb the economic ladder.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike have expressed alarm over what had been seen as diminishing opportunities for economic advancement through hard work and ingenuity.

Instead, the study found that 9 percent of children born in 1986 to the poorest 20 percent of households were likely to climb into the top 20 percent — little-changed from 8.4 percent for such children born in 1971.

“Absolutely, we were surprised” by the results, said Harvard University economist Nathaniel Hendren. He is one of the report’s authors along with Harvard’s Raj Chetty, Emmanuel Saez and Patrick Kline of the University of California, Berkeley, and Nicholas Turner of the Treasury Department.

Worries have been growing across the political spectrum about an expanding divide between America’s rich and the rest: The top 1 percent of Americans accounted for 22.5 percent of income earned in the United States in 2012.