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The Decline of Upward Mobility in One Chart

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Decline Upward Mobility

The Decline Of Upward Mobility In One Chart

For decades, a majority of Americans have been able to climb the economic ladder by earning higher incomes than their parents. These improving conditions are known as upward mobility, and form an important part of the American Dream.

However, each consecutive generation is finding it harder to make this ascent. In this graphic, we illustrate the decline in upward mobility over five decades using data from Opportunity Insights.

Understanding The Chart

This graphic plots the probability that a 30-year-old American has to outearn their parents (vertical axis) depending on their parent’s income percentile (horizontal axis). The 1st percentile represents America’s lowest earners, while the 99th percentile the richest.

As we move from left to right on the chart, the portion of people who outearn their parents takes a steep decline. This suggests that people born into upper class families are less likely to outearn their parents, regardless of generation.

The key takeaway, though, is that the starting point of this downward trend has shifted to the left. In other words, fewer people in the lower- and middle-classes are climbing the economic ladder.

Decade BornChance of Outearning Parents (Bottom Percentile)Chance of Outearning Parents (50th Percentile)Chance of Outearning Parents (Top Income Percentile) 
194095%93%41%
195090%81%15%
196086%62%7%
197090%59%16%
198079%45%8%

Declines can be seen across the board, but those growing up in the middle-class (50th percentile) have taken the largest hit. Within this bracket, individuals born in 1980 have only a 45% chance of outearning their parents at age 30, compared to 93% for those born in 1940.

Stagnating Wage Growth a Culprit

One factor behind America’s deteriorating upward mobility is the sluggish pace at which wages have grown. For example, the average hourly wage in 1964, when converted to 2018 dollars, is $20.27. Compare this to $22.65, the average hourly wage in 2018. That represents a mere 11.7% increase over a span of 54 years.

However, this may not be as bad as it sounds. While the prices of some goods and services have risen over time, others have actually become more affordable. Since January 1998, for example, the prices of electronic goods such as TVs and cellphones have actually decreased. In this way, individuals today are more prosperous than previous generations.

This benefit is likely outweighed by relative increases in other services, though. Whereas inflation since January 1998 totaled 58.8%, the costs of health and education services increased by more than 160% over the same time frame.

Income Distribution

While wages have been stagnant as a whole, it doesn’t paint the full picture. Another factor to consider is America’s changing income distribution.

Income Class1970 Share of U.S. Aggregate Income2018 Share of U.S. Aggregate Income
Upper 28%48%
Middle62%43%
Lower 10%9%

Source: Pew Research Center

Like the data on upward mobility, the middle class takes the largest hit here, with its share of U.S. aggregate income falling by 19 percentage points. Over the same time frame, the upper class was able to increase its share of total income by 20 percentage points.

Is It All Bad News?

Americans are less likely to earn more than their parents, but this doesn’t mean that upward mobility has completely disappeared—it’s just becoming less accessible. Below, we illustrate the changes in size for different income classes from 1967 to 2016.

The upper middle class has grown significantly, from 6% of the population in 1967 to 33% in 2016. At the same time, the middle class shrank from 47% to 36% and the lower middle class shrank from 31% to 16%.

The data suggests that some middle class Americans are still managing to pull themselves up into the next income bracket—it’s just not an effect that was as broad-based as it’s been in the past.

Does The American Dream Still Exist?

The American Dream is the belief that upward mobility is attainable for everyone through their own actions. This implies that growth will be continuous and widespread, two factors that have seemingly deteriorated in recent decades.

Researchers believe there are numerous complex reasons behind America’s stagnating wages. A decline in union membership, for example, could be eroding employees’ collective bargaining power. Other factors such as technological change may also apply downwards pressure on the wages of less educated workers.

Income inequality, on the other hand, is clearly shown by the data. We can also refer to the Gini-coefficient, a statistical measure of economic inequality. It ranges between 0 and 1, with 0 representing perfect equality and 1 representing perfect inequality (one person holds all the income). The U.S. currently has a Gini-coefficient of 0.434, the highest of any G7 country.

Long story short, the American Dream is still alive—it’s just becoming harder to come by.

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Politics

Basic Income Experiments Around the World

Amid the pandemic, the idea of Universal Basic Income has been gaining steam with policymakers. Where has it been tried, and has it worked?

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Universal-Basic-Income-Share

Basic Income Experiments Around the World

What if everyone received monthly payments to make life easier and encourage greater economic activity? That’s the exact premise behind Universal Basic Income (UBI).

The idea of UBI as a means to both combat poverty and improve economic prospects has been around for decades. With the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on economies worldwide, momentum behind the idea has seen a resurgence among certain groups.

Of course, the money to fund basic income programs has to come from somewhere. UBI relies heavily on government budgets or direct funding to cover the regular payments.

As policymakers examine this trade-off between government spending and the potential benefits, there is a growing pool of data to draw inferences from. In fact, basic income has been piloted and experimented on all around the world—but with a mixed bag of results.

What Makes Basic Income Universal?

UBI operates by giving people the means to meet basic necessities with a regular stipend. In theory, this leaves them free to spend their money and resources on economic goods, or searching for better employment options.

Before examining the programs, it’s important to make a distinction between basic income and universal basic income.

attributes of ubi programs

With these parameters in mind, and thanks to data from the Stanford Basic Income Lab, we’ve mapped 48 basic income programs that demonstrate multiple features of UBI and are regularly cited in basic income policy.

Some mapped programs are past experiments used to evaluate basic income. Others are ongoing or new pilots, including recently launched programs in Germany and Spain.

Recently, Canada joined the list as countries considering UBI as a top policy priority in a post-COVID world. But as past experiments show, ideas around basic income can be implemented in many different ways.

Basic Income Programs Took Many Forms

Basic income pilots have seen many iterations across the globe. Many paid out in U.S. dollars, while others chose to stick with local currencies (marked by an asterisk for estimated USD value).

ProgramLocationRecipientsPayment FrequencyAmount ($US/yr)Dates
Abundant Birth ProjectSan Francisco, U.S.100Monthly$12,000-$18,000TBD
Alaska Permanent Fund DividendAlaska, U.S.667,047Annually$1,000-$2,0001982-Present
B-MINCOMEBarcelona, Spain1,000Monthly$1,392-$23,324*2017-2019
Baby's First YearsNew York, U.S.1,000Monthly$240-$3,9962017-2022
Baby's First YearsNew Orleans, U.S.1,000Monthly$240-$3,9962017-2022
Baby's First YearsOmaha, U.S.1,000Monthly$240-$3,9962017-2022
Baby's First YearsTwin Cities, U.S.1,000Monthly$240-$3,9962017-2022
Basic Income for FarmersGyeonggi Province, South Korea430,000Annually$509*TBD
Basic Income Grant (BIG) PilotOmitara, Namibia930Monthly$163*2008-2009
Basic Income ProjectNot Disclosed3,000Monthly$600-$12,0002019-Present
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Casino Revenue FundJackson County and area, NC, U.S.15,414Biannually$7,000-$12,0001996-Present
Eight Pilot ProjectBusibi, Uganda150Monthly$110-$219*2017-2019
Evaluation of the Citizens' Basic Income ProgramMaricá, Brazil42,000Monthly$360*2019-Present
Finland Basic Income ExperimentFinland2,000Monthly$7,793*2017-2018
Gary Income Maintenance ExperimentsGary, U.S.1,782Monthly$3,300-$4,3001971-1974
Give DirectlyWestern Kenya20,847Monthly or Lump Sum$2742017-2030
Give DirectlySaiya County, Kenya10,500Lump Sum$3332014-2017
Give DirectlyRarieda District, Kenya503Monthly or Lump Sum$405-$1,5252011-2013
Human Development FundMongolia2,700,000Monthly$1872010-2012
Ingreso Mí­nimo VitalSpain850,000Monthly$6,535-$14,358*2020-Present
Iran Cash Transfer ProgrammeIran75,000,000Monthly$482010-Present
Madhya Pradesh Unconditional Cash Transfers ProjectMadhya Pradesh, India5,547Monthly$26-$77*2011-2012
Magnolia Mother's TrustJackson, MS, U.S.80Monthly$12,0002019-Present
Manitoba Basic Annual Income ExperimentWinnipeg, Canada1,677Monthly$3,842-$5,864*1975-1978
Manitoba Basic Annual Income ExperimentDauphin, Canada586Monthly$3,842-$5,864*1975-1978
My Basic IncomeGermany120Monthly$17,160*2020-2023
New Jersey Income Maintenance ExperimentJersey City, U.S.1,357BiweeklyVaried1968-1972
New Jersey Income Maintenance ExperimentPaterson, NJ, U.S.1,357BiweeklyVaried1968-1972
New Jersey Income Maintenance ExperimentPassaic, NJ, U.S.1,357BiweeklyVaried1968-1972
New Jersey Income Maintenance ExperimentTrenton, NJ, U.S.1,357BiweeklyVaried1968-1972
New Jersey Income Maintenance ExperimentScranton, PA, U.S.1,357BiweeklyVaried1968-1972
Ontario Basic Income PilotHamilton and area, Canada2,748Monthly$13,112-$18,930* (-50% income)2017-2018
Ontario Basic Income PilotThunder Bay and area, Canada1,908Monthly$13,112-$18,930* (-50% income)2017-2018
Ontario Basic Income PilotLindsay, Canada1,844Monthly$13,112-$18,930* (-50% income)2017-2018
Preserving Our DiversitySanta Monica, U.S.250Monthly$7,836-$8,9642017-Present
Quatinga VelhoQuatinga, Mogi das Cruces, Brazil67Monthly$197*2008-2014
Rural Income Maintenance ExperimentDuplin County, NC, U.S.810MonthlyVaried (NIT)1970-1972
Rural Income Maintenance ExperimentIowa, U.S.810MonthlyVaried (NIT)1970-1972
Scheme $6,000Hong Kong, China4,000,000Annually$771*2011-2012
Seattle-Denver Income Maintenance ExperimentSeattle, U.S.2,042Monthly$3,800-$5,6001971-1982
Seattle-Denver Income Maintenance ExperimentDenver, U.S.2,758Monthly$3,800-$5,6001971-1982
Stockton Economic Empowerment DemonstrationStockton, U.S.125Monthly$6,0002019-Present
TBDNewark, U.S.TBDMonthlyTBDTBD
Transition-Age Youth Basic Income Pilot ProgramSanta Clara, CA, U.S.72Monthly$12,0002020-2021
Wealth Partaking SchemeMacau, China700,600Annually$750-$1,1502008-Present
Youth Basic Income ProgramGyeonggi Province, South Korea125,000Quarterly$848*2018-Present
Citizen's Basic Income PilotScotlandTBDMonthlyTBDTBD
People's Prosperity Guaranteed Income Demonstration PilotSt. Paul, U.S.150Monthly$6,0002020-2022

Many of the programs meet the classical requirements of UBI. Of the 48 basic income programs tallied above, 75% paid out monthly, and 60% were paid out to individuals.

However, for various reasons, not all of these programs follow UBI requirements. For example, 38% of the basic income programs were paid out to households instead of individuals, and many programs have paid out in lump sums or over varying time frames.

Interestingly, the need for better understanding of basic income has resulted in many divergences between programs. Some programs were only targeted at specific groups like South Korea’s Basic Income for Farmers program, while others like the Baby’s First Years program in the U.S. have been experimenting with different dollar amounts in order to evaluate efficiency.

Other experiments based payments made off of the total income of recipients. For example, in the U.S., the Rural Income and New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiments paid out using a negative income tax (return) on earnings, while recipients of Canada’s Ontario Basic Income Pilot received fixed amounts minus 50% of their earned income.

Varying Programs with Varied Results

So is basic income the real deal or a pipe dream? The results are still unclear.

Some, like the initial pilots for Uganda’s Eight program, were found to result in significant multipliers on economic activity and well-being. Other programs, however, returned mixed results that made further experimentation difficult. Finland’s highly-touted pilot program decreased stress levels of recipients across the board, but didn’t positively impact work activity.

The biggest difficulty has been in keeping programs going and securing funding. Ontario’s three-year projects were prematurely cancelled in 2018 before they could be completed and assessed, and the next stages of Finland’s program are in limbo.

Likewise in the U.S., start-up incubator Y Combinator has been planning a $60M basic income study program, but can’t proceed until funding is secured.

A Post-COVID Future for UBI?

In light of COVID-19, basic income has once again taken center stage.

Many countries have already implemented payment schemes or boosted unemployment benefits in reaction to the pandemic. Others like Spain have used that momentum to launch fully-fledged basic income pilots.

It’s still too early to tell if UBI will live up to expectations or if the idea will fizzle out, but as new experiments and policy programs take shape, a growing amount of data will become available for policymakers to evaluate.

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Markets

The $88 Trillion World Economy in One Chart

The world’s total GDP crested $88 trillion in 2019—but how are the current COVID-19 economic contractions affecting its future outlook?

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The $88 Trillion World Economy in One Chart

The global economy can seem like an abstract concept, yet it influences our everyday lives in both obvious and subtle ways. Nowhere is this clearer than in the current economic state amid the throes of the pandemic.

This voronoi-style visualization from HowMuch relies on gross domestic product (GDP) data from the World Bank to paint a picture of the global economy—which crested $87.8 trillion in 2019.

Editor’s note: Annual data on economic output is a lagging indicator, and is released the following year by organizations such as the World Bank. The figures in this diagram provide a snapshot of the global economy in 2019, but do not necessarily represent the impact of recent developments such as COVID-19.

Top 10 Countries by GDP (2019)

In the one-year period since the last release of official data in 2018, the global economy grew approximately $2 trillion in size—or about 2.3%.

The United States continues to have the top GDP, accounting for nearly one-quarter of the world economy. China also continued to grow its share of global GDP, going from 15.9% to 16.3%.

RankCountryGDP% of Global GDP
#1🇺🇸 U.S.$21.4T24.4%
#2🇨🇳 China$14.3T16.3%
#3🇯🇵 Japan$5.1T5.8%
#4🇩🇪 Germany$3.9T4.4%
#5🇮🇳 India$2.9T3.3%
#6🇬🇧 UK$2.8T3.2%
#7🇫🇷 France$2.7T3.1%
#8🇮🇹 Italy$2.0T2.3%
#9🇧🇷 Brazil$1.8T2.1%
#10🇨🇦 Canada$1.7T2.0%
Top 10 Countries$58.7 trillion66.9%

In recent years, the Indian economy has continued to have an upward trajectory—now pulling ahead of both the UK and France—to become one of the world’s top five economies.

In aggregate, these top 10 countries combine for over two-thirds of total global GDP.

2020 Economic Contractions

So far this year, multiple countries have experienced temporary economic contractions, including many of the top 10 countries listed above.

The following interactive chart from Our World in Data helps to give us some perspective on this turbulence, comparing Q2 economic figures against those from the same quarter last year.

One of the hardest hit economies has been Peru. The Latin American country, which is about the 50th largest in terms of GDP globally, saw its economy contract by 30.2% in Q2 despite efforts to curb the virus early.

Spain and the UK are also feeling the impact, posting quarterly GDP numbers that are 22.1% and 21.7% smaller respectively.

Meanwhile, Taiwan and South Korea are two countries that may have done the best at weathering the COVID-19 storm. Both saw minuscule contractions in a quarter where the global economy seemed to grind to a halt.

Projections Going Forward

According to the World Bank, the global economy could ultimately shrink 5.2% in 2020—the deepest cut since WWII.

See below for World Bank projections on GDP in 2020 for when the dust settles, as well as the subsequent potential for recovery in 2021.

Country/ Region / Economy Type2020 Growth Projection2021E Rebound Forecast
United States-6.1%4.0%
Euro Area-9.1%4.5%
Advanced economies-7.0%3.9%
Emerging economies-2.5%4.6%
East Asia and Pacific-0.5%6.6%
Europe and Central Asia-4.7%3.6%
Latin America and the Caribbean-7.2%2.8%
Middle East and North Africa-4.2%2.3%
South Asia-2.7%2.8%
Sub-Saharan Africa-2.8%3.1%
Global Growth-5.2%4.2%

Source: World Bank Global Economic Prospects, released June 2020

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