In stark contrast to the decades of the Great Convergence, when average Americans garnered a growing share of a growing pie, during the decades of the Great Divergence, the growth of the pie has been monopolized by a smaller and smaller group at the top. The resulting change is huge. If today’s income were distributed in the same way that 1970 income was distributed, it is estimated, the bottom 99 percent would get roughly $1 trillion more annually, and the top 1 percent would get roughly $1 trillion less.
The growing economic inequity is linked with growing inequality in other spheres of society including our children’s prospects for upward mobility and even our physical health.
Evidence from the first half of the twentieth century is too sparse to be certain about trends in socioeconomic mobility, but the best evidence is that upward mobility – the likelihood that a child born into a poor home would do better than his or her parents – rose during the first half of the twentieth century, in part because of the high school revolution. Economist David Card and his colleagues term this era “the Golden Age of Upward Mobility.” As we saw earlier in this chapter, during the first two thirds of the century a higher and higher fraction of American youth graduated from high school and college. Thus, more and more children born and educated in this period surpassed their parents in education and likely earned more, as well.
From “The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again” by Robert D. Putnam