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Income gap has grown, but economic mobility hasn’t changed

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The world’s greatest business and economic thinkers are gathered in Davos, Switzerland this week for the World Economic Forum. The theme of the meeting this year: income inequality. Two new reports out today reveal Americans’ thinking on the matter and some contradictions to popular perceptions.

The first, a USA Today/Pew Research Poll, reveals the majority of Americans agree the income gap between the rich and everyone else is increasing. But the poll also reveals a contradiction when it comes to the responsibility for that reality. When asked: “what’s more to blame if a person is poor?”, 50% of respondents said “circumstances beyond his or her control and 35% said “lack of effort.” But when asked “what has more to do with why a person is rich?”, 51% of respondents said “worked harder than most other people” and 38% said “had more advantages than most other people”.

At the same time, a new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the odds of a child moving up the economic ladder in this country have not changed significantly over time. The authors of the study confirm Americans’ feelings about the income gap, but contradict the popular perception of economic mobility. “The rungs of the ladder have grown further apart (inequality has increased), but children’s chances of climbing from lower to higher rungs have not changed,” according to the study.