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Kamrie McKay
4-12-2014
Economic Inequality: Effects on Social Mobility

Today we will focus on the topic of stratification and economic inequality. Take out a
piece of paper and describe what you think the distribution of wealth in America is, said my
sociology teacher. I took out the paper as she said and explained how I thought that the upper
class of America had majority of the wealth and the rest of America shared what was left over.
She revealed the actual results and it turned out that I was beyond right. Using Michael I.
Nortons study of wealth inequality in America
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she showed us how the top 20% of America
held more than half of the wealth thus leaving lower class Americans to work even harder for a
decent paycheck while they held the lesser paying jobs, therefore stunting the idea of social
mobility that our country makes its name off of. Therefore my argument is that the economic
inequality between upper class and middle/lower class America have helped towards the
continuous difficulty of social mobility in our country.
You can read the argument that there is a good reason for economic inequality
and that it actually helps our society. Inequality evokes ambition and hard work from people who
want to strive for something better than they already have. This falls under the standard of
equality called Equality of Opportunity
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, or more commonly known as meritocracy, where as
long as everyone has the same opportunities for advancement inequality is okay because it is
based on individual ability. However, one can argue that people get their jobs not by how hard
they work or how good they are but by who they know or because they grew up in a better
neighborhood, etc. When this happens it prevents other people in the lower classes from getting
the white collar jobs, jobs requiring no manual labor, and leaves them with lower paying jobs

1
What We Know About Wealth, Harvard Magazine. Accessed April 11, 2014,
www.harvardmagazine.com/2011/11/what-we-know-about-wealth
2
Dalton Conley, You May Ask Yourself, 247
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which stops their opportunity for social mobility. Sociologist Richard Breen talks about how
unequal rewards act as incentives and thus are essential. Inequality and social mobility are
suppose to work hand in hand to create economic growth but instead have the opposite effect and
counteract each other.
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Over the years the average salary of a major corporation CEO increased from $2 million
to a minimum of $ 50 million dollars over the course of 40 years while the average salary of a
person with a blue collar job, a job that requires physical work such as a waitress or firefighter,
instead will have a salary decrease of 1% over the same amount of time.
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Instead of
middle/lower class America getting high paying jobs that they can advance in they get stuck in
blue collar jobs that dont allow them room in their paychecks to do things like make an
investment or buy stock which are some ways to gain money. This is yet another way in which
the economic inequality is decreasing the available window for social mobility for people other
than upper class Americans.
All of the presented sources support the claim that economic inequality is limiting the
opportunity for social mobility because they compare the average financial scenario for upper
class and middle/lower class Americans and shows the tremendous differences in them. One
example is the difference between the pay between white collar and blue-collar jobs that often
are split off into categories with the upper class having high class white-collar jobs such as
doctors and lawyers and the middle/lower class jobs having the blue-collar jobs such as janitors
and child care workers. While the idea of inequality in our society has good intentions it is in fact
only hurting those who dont have the resources such as education to take the next step in
moving up on the social/financial ladder.

3
Richard Breen, Inequality, Economic Growth, and Social Mobility British Journal of Sociology, 429-433
4
Dalton Conley, You May Ask Yourself, 262-263.
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What has been revealed is that the average salary of the typical middle/lower class citizen
is steadily declining over time while the cost of living is steadily going up. This pushes more
people into poverty and forces many more people to get multiple jobs or live paycheck to
paycheck. This means that less people can afford to live in better neighborhoods and therefore
children cant go to better schools which mean a lower quality education when compared to
upper class Americans. As a result the middle/lower class people get beat out of the better jobs
and have to settle for lesser. This is simply an ongoing cycle that will continue to repeat itself if
we dont work together to make the rich richer as well as making the poor richer too. The saying,
a team is only as strong as its weakest player is true for our country as well. How strong can
our nation really be if we have millions of people who cant even come close to social mobility
while there are a significantly smaller amount of people who have broken the social mobility
scale because there is no higher that they can get. According to this it shows that our country
may not be as strong as it sets out to be after all.