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 Born||Chance of Outearning Parents (Bottom Percentile)||Chance of Outearning Parents (50th Percentile)||Chance of Outearning Parents (Top Income Percentile)|
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.
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 Class||1970 Share of U.S. Aggregate Income||2018 Share of U.S. Aggregate Income|
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.
Visualizing How the Pandemic is Impacting American Wallets
57% of U.S. consumers’ incomes have taken a hit during the pandemic. How do such financial anxieties affect the ability to pay bills on time?
A Snapshot of U.S. Personal Finances During the Pandemic
If you’ve felt that you’ve needed to penny-pinch more during the pandemic, you’re not alone.
In the past seven months, 42% of U.S. consumers have missed paying one or more bills, while over a third (39%) believe they will need to skip payments in the future.
This visualization breaks down the state of U.S. consumers’ personal finances during the COVID-19 era, and projects into future concerns around savings.
Pandemic Personal Finances: Key Takeaways
Based on data from the doxoINSIGHTS Bills Pay Impact Report across 1,568 sampled households, three themes emerge:
- 57% of consumers’ incomes have taken a hit in the past seven months
- 70% have delayed discretionary spending on big purchases
- 75% continue to be very worried about their future financial health
How do these anxieties translate into day-to-day consequences?
Pandemic Postpones Bill Payments
Unsurprisingly, worrying about personal finances also means that more Americans are deferring their bill payments during the pandemic. However, these vary depending on the type of bill, total amount, and immediate urgency.
Over a quarter (27%) of U.S. consumers report having missed a bill on their auto loans, followed by 26% for utilities and 25% on cable or internet costs.
The average cost of the above three bill types is $258—but that’s still a fraction of the two most expensive bills, mortgage or rent, which come in at $1,268 and $1,023 respectively.
|Bill Type||$ Value||% Missed|
While 20% of Americans say they’ve missed a rent payment over the past few months, what’s even more alarming is that 28% of U.S. consumers believe they will most likely skip paying rent in the future.
|Bill Type||% Likely to Skip in Future|
Another clear trend is that many Americans are prioritizing insurance payments, particularly health insurance. This is good news during a global pandemic—only 10% have missed paying this bill type, although 15% expect to skip it in the coming months.
According to the report, some U.S. consumers seem to prioritize the bill types which come with strings attached, from late-payment penalties to accrued interest.
While missing a single payment might seem harmless, a pattern of missed payments over time have the potential to negatively impact your credit score.
Enough Savings To Stay Afloat?
Finally, Americans are wary about how much they have stashed away in the bank to weather the tumultuous months ahead.
While unemployment figures are recovering from historic troughs, the fear of losing one’s job remains prevalent. How many months’ worth of savings do U.S. consumers think they have if this were to happen?
|# Months||% Responses|
|7+ months 💰💰💰💰💰💰💰||23%|
|4-6 months 💰💰💰💰💰💰||15%|
|1-3 months 💰💰💰||27%|
|<1 month 💰||35%|
No one knows how long the COVID-19 chaos will last. In order to adapt to this economic uncertainty, consumer priorities are shifting along with their tightened budgets.
The World’s Gold and Silver Coin Production vs. Money Creation
In 2019, the value of global money creation was over 500 times higher than the world’s gold and silver coin production combined.
Global Gold & Silver Coin Production vs. Money Creation
Note: Data has been updated to correct a previous calculation error pertaining to Japanese Yen money supply.
Both precious metals and cash serve as safe haven assets, intended to limit losses during market turmoil. However, while modern currencies can be printed by central governments, precious metals derive value from their scarcity.
In this infographic from Texas Precious Metals, we compare the value of the world’s gold and silver coin production to global money creation.
Total Production Per Person, 2019
We calculated the value of global currency issuance in 2019 as well as precious metal coins minted, and divided by the global population to get total production per person.
Throughout, global money supply is a proxy based on the 5 largest reserve currencies: the U.S. dollar, Euro, Japanese Yen, Sterling Pound, and Chinese Renminbi.
|2019 Production||Ounces||Dollar Value||Dollar Value Per Person|
|Global Gold Coins||7,204,982||$10.9B||$1.42|
|Global Silver Coins||97,900,000||$1.8B||$0.23|
|Global Money Supply||$4.3T||$556.33|
All numbers are in USD according to exchange rates as of December 31 2019. Gold and silver values are based on the 2019 year close price of $1,510.60 and $17.90 respectively.
The value of new global money supply was 390 times higher than the value of gold coins minted, and 2,400 times higher than silver coins minted.
Put another way, for each ounce of minted gold coin, the global money supply increased by more than $593,000.
Change in Annual Production, 2019 vs. 2010
Compared to the start of the decade, here’s how annual production levels have changed:
|Global Silver Coins (oz)||95,900,000||97,900,000||2.1%|
|Global Gold Coins (oz)||6,298,331||7,204,982||14.4%|
|Global Money Supply (USD)||$2,936,296,692,440||$4,268,993,639,926||45.4%|
Annual increases to global money supply have increased by half, far outpacing the change in the world’s gold and silver coin production.
Even more recently, how has production changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The COVID-19 Effect
In response to the global pandemic, central banks have enacted numerous measures to help support economies—including issuing new currency.
The global money supply increased by more than $6.8 trillion in the first half of 2020. In fact, the value of printed currency was 930 times higher than the value of minted gold coins over the same timeframe.
Investors may want to consider which asset is more vulnerable to inflation as they look to protect their portfolios.
Want to learn more? See the U.S. version of this graphic.
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