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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Did We Need a Landmark Study to Tell Us Mobility Didn't Decrease for People Entering the Labor Market Between 1990 and 2007?

Did We Need a Landmark Study to Tell Us Mobility Didn't Decrease for People Entering the Labor Market Between 1990 and 2007?

Thursday, 23 January 2014 07:46

The Washington Post gave front page coverage to some serious non-news when it highlighted a "landmark" study showing no substantial changes in mobility for children born in the early 1990s relative to children born in the early 1970s. While this findings is presented as surprising to both people who expected an increase or decrease in mobility, it really would have been surprising if the study had found otherwise.

The big shift in the income distribution against workers at the bottom occurred in the 1980s before the oldest people in this study entered the labor force. The upward redistribution in the period between when the oldest and youngest people in this study entered the labor force would have been primarily to the one percent. It would have been very surprising in a context where they are not big changes in the income distribution among the bottom four quintiles that there would be substantial changes in mobility.

It is probably useful that these researchers confirmed what most observers of the economy already believed, but it doesn't seem like front page news.

Comments (6)Add Comment
written by kharris, January 23, 2014 7:15
To the extent that home ownership can constrain mobility - more in times of housing market stress - then the period in which one should expect the biggest decline in mobility is from 2008 to 2011 or 2012, relative to earlier periods.

Periods of high unemployment would be interesting to compare to periods of low unemployment. Labor mobility can be a partial solution to joblessness, as long as high unemployment is not universal across all locations. However, unemployment creates its own barriers to relocation. Studying labor mobility in times of high unemployment would let us know whether moving to where the jobs are is a workable options. If it is not, then there may be opportunities for policy intervention to get people to jobs.
Logic escapes most
written by Ryan, January 23, 2014 9:11
I suspect this is a part of the deeper plot to convince people that it's all in their heads. 1990s and 1970s sound so long ago that most people won't think to the "entering the labor force in late 1980s" part. It's meant to convey the idea that things did not get worse in the 1980s as far as this issue is concerned. As you point out, the action occurs after.
referring to lots of numbers while implementing terrible policy works for a percent
written by jaaaaayceeeee, January 23, 2014 4:28

Reading leading newspapers is often as depressing as reading too cute leader articles in the economist, telling us we need a new generation of Thatchers and Reagans and derivatives.

Thanks for being tireless, so capable at documenting the atrocities, and even more for reminding us of how good policies, otoh, work.
written by Doug O'Keefe, January 23, 2014 5:43
David Leonhardt, writing today in the NYT about the same study, as well as an earlier one by Lee and Solon, cites Chetty, co-author of the new study: "Taken together, the studies suggest that rates of intergenerational mobility appeared to have held roughly steady over the last half-century." What evidence is there of a "big shift" that "occured in the 1980s"? Thank you.
Evidence of increasing inequality in the 1980s
written by Dean, January 23, 2014 10:28
The study that Leonhardt cites is far from conclusive -- the numbers were extremely erratic, suggesting the sample size wasn't large enough to give much information.
Here's a blogpost that addresses the issue
Did the Authors Collude to Exaggerate this Study's Findings in the Media?
written by Hugh Sansom, January 24, 2014 1:50
It isn't just the Washington Post that's bloviating about this paper. The New York Times, NPR, The Atlantic, and I don't know how many others are raving about a "landmark study." And how convenient ... there's a nice one page set of graphics and a three page "non-technical" study — almost as if a marketing team at Harvard decided, "Let's make sure this Harvard (and Berkeley) study gets lots of press."

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.