The Republican Party's new superstar pundit, Paul Ryan recently stated that the Republicans and Democrats can be divided by the following thoughts, "Whether we are a nation that still believes in equality of opportunity, or whether we are moving away from that, and towards an insistence on equality of outcome." To further make his point Mr. Ryan goes on to explain, "Let's not focus on redistribution; let's focus on upward mobility." I believe that as we move towards a rapidly increasing income disparity, Ryan's assertion is a dressed-up way of saying that capitalism, "trickle-down" politics and the good-old "pull yourself-up by your bootstraps" American ethos will help close the income/advantage gap and lead to positive "outcomes" for everyone. Sadly this is a myth that has never and most-likely will never be proven real and has especially dangerous implications for young people from low-income households. Over 16 million children live at or below the poverty level in America (more data can be found here here), expecting these kids to just "try harder" to reach more equal outcomes seems extremely misguided.
One only has to look to these young people, who serve as canaries in the mine of sorts, to test the validity of this claim. According to the Economic Policy Institute only 29 percent of students from low-income families test well in the eighth-grade finish college. Contrast this with 30 percent of their high-income peers with LOW test scores who somehow manage to attain higher-ed degrees. Clearly opportunities that lead to successful future outcomes are limited to children whose parents can afford the price tag.
For more on income inequality visit the Pew Center's Economic Mobility Project and visit this post on my UFR Teacher Network Site for more teacher resources to help your students understand current events related to fiscal responsibility. Much of the research in this POV piece was found in the November 7th issue of New York Magazine & their article by Jonathan Chait entitled, No Such Thing as Equal Opportunity."