Public Policy for Equality and Opportunity: Evidence-based and Ethically Grounded

Inequality erodes opportunity, and limited opportunity exacerbates inequality. This vicious intergenerational cycle has brought inclusive growth into question, contributed to the rise of populist sentiment, and strained the social contract in many rich countries. The way forward for researchers and policy makers requires not only a clear understanding of the facts about what kind of inequality matters and how it matters, but also an ethical grounding that speaks to the outcomes and opportunities that are important to citizens not only in the here and now, but also in the next generation.

This is the argument I make in a keynote lecture that I have had the privilege to give, first on October 20th 2022 to the 8th Annual Congress de Economía y de Políticas Públicas, SobreMéxico in Mexico City, and second on November 17th 2022 to the Conference on Wealth Inequality and Intergenerational Mobility at the Vienna University of Economics and Business in Vienna.

Download the latest version of my presentation.

Watch the presentation .

The Great Gatsby Curve poses three questions for economic theory, statistical measurement, and public policy

When comparing many countries, not just the rich but also across the entire globe, researchers have consistently found that the higher the level of income inequality about a generation ago, the more strongly children’s adult prospects are tied to their family backgrounds. This relationship between higher inequality and lower social mobility has become known as The Great Gatsby Curve.

Economic theory, statistical measurement, and public policy have all been most constructively informed by this picture when they explore

  1. What kind of inequality matters?
  2. What kind of social mobility do we care about?
  3. Which cross-country comparisons are most judicious, from which policy learning is best informed?

Watch this interview produced by the Institute for New Economic Thinking ,who gave me the opportunity to explain what the Great Gatsby is, and highlight how it offers a constructive framework for deeper conversations about the relationship between inequality and social mobility.

Inequality from the Child’s Perspective: Social mobility in pandemic times

Watch my presentation about the three ways the disruptions and stresses of the COVID19 pandemic threaten the future prospects of children, the implications they have for the conduct of public policy, and the possibilities for future research.

This presentation was offered to the “Inequality by the Numbers” virtual workshop organized by The Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. The workshop includes a host of other presentations by my colleagues at The Stone Center and the affiliated fellows. Check them all out at this link: https://stonecenter.gc.cuny.edu/news-and-commentary/inequality-by-the-numbers-2020/

The COVID19 pandemic is a threat to social mobility, as children in disadvantaged families will face more challenges in adulthood

The COVID19 pandemic will threaten social mobility. I examine three ways in which this is likely to happen in my presentation to the ZEW Seminar on COVID19 and inequality held on June 19th, 2020. This post summarizes the major messages.

Drawing on past research I see three aspects of inequality in the lower part of the income distribution that will be exacerbated and threaten the upward mobility of children raised in challenging circumstances.

But I begin by stressing that the United States has lower social mobility than many other rich countries in part because of a more vicious intergenerational cycle of low income, and this in turn has something important to do with race and a legacy of disadvantage among African-Americans.

The obvious challenge for public policy directed to enhancing equality of opportunity is to address the barriers that divide many from the mainstream, and to promote social inclusion of all.

1. Family is central to social mobility

But more specifically, COVID19 is likely to have exacerbated the challenges of parenting, family stress has likely gone up among some families, and in the extreme abusive relationships are more threatening and harder to leave. Separation and divorce may rise. From the perspective of the adult prospects of children, this will lead to delayed partnership formation, and more unstable relationships, even if it does not impact directly on their earning prospects.

2. Progressive public investment matters and should be supported

Social mobility is promoted by progressive public investment, particularly in health care and schooling. Many have already pointed out that the pandemic has exacerbated differences in schooling outcomes in the short term, as children in lower socio-economic families have gained much less from online learning than their counterparts. This is equivalent to the well documented loss in learning that occurs during summer months as well-to-do families enrich the child’s experiences in ways not available to others.

But in the longer run it will be very important to not cut back, indeed to increase, investment in high quality public schooling. An era of austerity in the aftermath of the 2008 Great Recession led to cuts in public investments that should be avoided this time around.

3. Job loss and income falls echo into the next generation

Finally, if temporary layoffs morph into permanent job loss, and if public income support is inadequate this will imply a long-lasting decline in family income that will have long run consequences for children. The adult earnings of children raised in families where the main breadwinner permanently lost a high seniority job in mid career suffered. The parental income loss echoed into the child’s adulthood, the children experiencing lower income and greater reliance on public income support as adults.

For more detail, download my presentation and use the links to useful resources to learn more: “Inequality from the Child’s Perspective: Social mobility in Pandemic Times”

Intergenerational mobility over time and space

This is Lecture 7 of the course ECON 85600, “Inequality, Economic Opportunity, and Public Policy,” that my class and I are now conducting online. You are welcome to participate, and can review all the course materials at https://milescorak.com/equality-of-opportunity/teaching/ .

Warning: this is likely to interest social scientists in sociology, economics, or other fields, interested in developing a specialized knowledge of the subject!

Continue reading “Intergenerational mobility over time and space”

The geography of intergenerational mobility in Canada and the United States

This is Lecture 8 of the course ECON 85600, “Inequality, Economic Opportunity, and Public Policy,” that my class and I are now conducting online. You are welcome to participate, and can review all the course materials at https://milescorak.com/equality-of-opportunity/teaching/ .

Warning: this is likely to interest social scientists in sociology, economics, or other fields, interested in developing a specialized knowledge of the subject!

Continue reading “The geography of intergenerational mobility in Canada and the United States”