Vol. 7 (2021): Economic Inequality, Social Mobility, and Institutionalized Racism

					View Vol. 7 (2021): Economic Inequality, Social Mobility, and Institutionalized Racism

Dear Reader,

Income inequality in the United States has steadily worsened since the 1970s.[1] We have experienced a 39% increase in income inequality in under four decades—and it comes as a result of an increase in inequality each decade.[2] Furthermore, with the growth in income inequality in the United States, it is decreasingly plausible that someone born into a lower-income household will achieve a higher income as an adult. A 2012 study by The Pew Charitable Trusts showed that 43% of those born into the bottom fifth of households are stuck there, and with social mobility declining since the 1970s, matters are only worsening.[3]

People from around the world come to the United States for the promise of the “American Dream,” the notion that a person born into the bottom economic rung can rise to the top. The same Pew study showed that just 4% born into the lowest-earning 20% of United States families rise to the top 20%.[4] We need to face the reality that the American Dream is more suitably titled the “American Myth.” Or, in the words of Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The American Dream is a lie.”[5]

The situation only becomes more pressing when we consider how income inequality affects Black, Indigenous, and Hispanic and Latino Americans. While the United States has seen massive strides in civil rights, education, and history-making achievement for Black Americans since 1970, median Black household income as a percentage of white household income has only increased 5%—from 56% to 61%—with Latinx Americans earning only slightly more.[6] In terms of social mobility, things are more challenging for people of color, too. Over half of Black Americans born into the bottom fifth of households remain there as adults, while this number drops to 33% for white Americans.[7] It is also more likely that Black Americans will experience downward mobility than white Americans.[8]

Given the magnitude and enduring nature of these issues, we need more than just solutions. We need innovative solutions that address the underlying institutional, systematic, and societal barriers that collectively—both intentionally and unintentionally—reinforce economic disparities. Articulating these solutions will push us all to think more creatively and act more decisively.

This edition of The Social Innovations Journal will do just that. We aim to provide insight into the problems of income inequality, social mobility, and the role of institutional and social racism. Moreover, we hope to share solutions and shed light on bright spots where organizations and individuals are overcoming society’s limitations. We also will share policy suggestions and case studies, to encourage lobbyists and policymakers to enact broad changes to make it easier for all people in the United States to achieve the dream we have been promised.


April Kaplowitz, Guest Edition Curator and Editor

Nicholas Torres, Co-Founder, Social Innovations Journal


[1] U.S. Census Bureau, “Income and Poverty in the United States,” U.S. Census Bureau, 2018, Table A-4.

[2] Juliana Horowitz, Ruth Igielnik, and Rakesh Kochhar, “Most Americans Say There Is Too Much Economic Inequality in the U.S., but Fewer Than Half Call It a Top Priority,” Pew Research Center, 2020, https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/01/09/trends-in-income-and-wealth-inequality.

[3] The Pew Charitable Trusts, “Pursuing the American Dream: Economic Mobility across Generations,” The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2012, https://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/legacy/uploadedfiles/wwwpewtrustsorg/reports/economic_mobility/pursuingamericandreampdf.pdf; Kathrine Bradbury, “Trends in U.S. Family Income Mobility, 1969 – 2006,” Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, 2011, https://www.bostonfed.org/publications/research-department-working-paper/2011/trends-in-us-family-income-mobility-1969-2006.aspx.

[4] The Pew Charitable Trusts, “Pursuing the American Dream.”

[5] Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me. (New York City: Spiegel & Grau, 2015), 52.

[6] Kathrine Schaeffer, “6 Facts about Economic Inequality in the U.S.,” Pew Research Center, February 7, 2020, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/02/07/6-facts-about-economic-inequality-in-the-u-s.

[7] The Pew Charitable Trusts, “Pursuing the American Dream.”

[8] The Pew Charitable Trusts, “Pursuing the American Dream.”

Published: 2021-06-28