Income Mobility from the Top, Middle, and Bottom


Our report focuses on intergenerational income mobility for low-income California children. But we also look at how mobile California children are throughout the income distribution. So suppose that you took all households in the United States and you sorted them according to their incomes, and then you divided them into five equally sized groups. The figure shows average household earnings for each of these five groups. The bottom group has an average income of about $11,000 a year. This uses income data from the 2012 income distribution, and the top group has an average income of about $180,000 a year. Now the question is, for children born into each of these groups, in what group do they end up as adults? This figure shows the outcomes for California children born into the bottom group, so those whose parents earned about $11,000 a year. About 30 percent of these children will remain in that bottom group, and an additional 24 percent will move up to the second group. But about a third of these children will end up in one of the top two groups. I would also note that if each of these children had an equal chance of ending up in any of these groups, each of these bars would be exactly 20 percent. So how about those children who were born into the top group? Those whose parents earned about $180,000 a year on average? This figure now shows about half of those children born into that top group, will stay in either the top group or end up in the second to the top group. Meanwhile, about a third of those children will end up in one of the bottom two groups. The two groups I have shown here are generally less mobile than the groups in the middle. This figure shows the proportion of children born into each of these groups that stay in that group. So the proportion of children born into the bottom that stay in the bottom, or born in the middle that stay in the middle. As you can see in the figure, more children that are born in the bottom and the top group will stay in those groups, than those that are born in the middle.

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