Mobility


By: Mark Strandquist

Core to our national consciousness is mobility—the idea that where we start out in society should not predetermine where we end up, nor should the country maintain rigid caste lines or perpetuate a privileged class.

The U.S. Constitution reflects this commitment to mobility over caste in its prohibition of titles of nobility and in its systematic move away from slavery, patriarchy, and the privileges of a landed gentry and toward the guarantees of equal protection of the laws, universal suffrage, and equal privileges and immunities for all Americans. The experience of the frontier, migration, and immigration, the Great Depression, and the post-war rise of the middle class served to galvanize this ideal in our national psyche. These values are also reflected in our human rights laws. For example, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination condemns the practices of colonialism, segregation, and apartheid that enforce caste systems and squelch mobility.

Yet, too often our nation’s social categories are static. People do not move up or down the socioeconomic scale over their lifetime, and families do not change their status over generations. In recent years, inequality has widened and Americans’ economic fates have been sealed based on the family they are born into.

As a nation, we must invest in the gateways to mobility—such as universal public education, wage and labor laws, progressive taxes, civil rights enforcement, or the GI Bill—if we want to move toward achieving our promise as a land of opportunity.

Certain societal assets have long served as doorways to mobility. A quality public education and affordable access to college have helped to catapult generations of Americans from poverty and working-class status into the middle class and sometimes, affluence. Similarly, a decent job at a living wage not only provides economic advancement through salary, savings and freedom from debt, it also provides the leisure time that is essential to creativity, entrepreneurship, and spiritual development. Home ownership, too, has long been an investment in economic mobility, as well as in strong communities and social networks that aid in broader advancement.

As a nation, we must invest in the gateways to mobility—such as universal public education, wage and labor laws, progressive taxes, civil rights enforcement, or the GI Bill—if we want to move toward achieving our promise as a land of opportunity.