Surprisingly, the United States lags in income mobility
By Fred Kammer, S.J.
In our Spring 2012 JustSouth Quarterly, Part One of this article—“Growing Economic Inequality Matters!”—discussed the fact that economic inequality (both in income and wealth) is real and worsening in the United States, that it has multiple causes, and that it matters, especially to people of faith concerned about distributive justice. At the conclusion, the article raised the question whether “relative income mobility” cures inequality. In other words, does the fact that some people do move between income levels mean that inequality does not matter, that economic freedom trumps economic justice?
Relative Mobility Plays a Role
People or households often shift between income groups with individual and global economic changes, life cycle progress, good and bad luck, family resources, illness, marriage or divorce, retirement, and hard work. Over time there can be different people in the income “quintiles”; this is called relative mobility, that people can move relative to those in their income group at any time. Because there is relative mobility, some argue, it is not fair or accurate to talk about inequality or income or wealth gains or losses at the top or the bottom since the population of different groups is different at different times.