It's So Much Harder to Escape Poverty Than You Might Think - It Can Take Decades and an Incredible Streak of Good Luck

In order to get out of poverty, you have to basically be extremely lucky for almost 20 years, according to a new book The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, by economist Peter Temin.


So many deep-seeded factors have lead to the economic and wealth inequality in the U.S. today (from slavery through to the new Jim Crow prisons crisis of today, to technological shifts, to globalization, corporatization and so much else) that few Americans stand a realistic chance of ever changing their economic status. Writer Gillian B. White explains this in a detail in an April 27 piece in the Atlantic, which sums up Temin's new book.

In the book, Temin explains the problem via a concept he calls the “dual economy." He divides the American economic system between an “FTE sector” of college educated, computer literate, high-salaried people (he estimates these make up about 20 percent of the roughly 320 million Americans); and the “low-wage sector,” (which represents the majoirty of the nation). 

Temin's estimates trace workers' families back to before 1970, and he does the math to determines that America’s economy runs on a two-class system, in which race plays a significant role. He establishes that it would take almost 20 years of “nothing going wrong,” as White’s piece puts it, for an average person in poverty to dig their way out.

As White summarizes in the Atlantic:

“Education is key, Temin writes, but notes that this means plotting, starting in early childhood, a successful path to, and through, college. That’s a 16-year (or longer) plan that, as Temin compellingly observes, can be easily upended. For minorities especially, this means contending with the racially fraught trends Temin identifies earlier in his book, such as mass incarceration and institutional disinvestment in students, for example. Many cities, which house a disproportionate portion of the black (and increasingly, Latino) population, lack adequate funding for schools. And decrepit infrastructure and lackluster public transit can make it difficult for residents to get out of their communities to places with better educational or work opportunities. Temin argues that these impediments exist by design.”

Read the detailed Atlantic  piece here.

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