Since about 1980, the growth of single-parent families has been driven almost entirely by an increase in childbearing outside of marriage, often the result of people sliding into relationships and having an unplanned baby.
The United States does not currently invest heavily in vocational training compared with other countries, and funding for vocational training has declined over the past decades. The United States spends less than 0.05 percent of its gross domestic product on vocational training opportunities for workers.
Nearly one out of two families in the struggling lower-middle class is headed by an adult who has attended college. Among household family heads with income between 100 and 250 percent of the FPL, 48 percent have attended some college, and 14 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher. In stark contrast to those living at or below 250 percent of the FPL, 77 percent of household family heads above 250 percent of the FPL attended at least some college, and about half have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
The earnings of college graduates are much higher than for nongraduates, and that is especially true among people born into low-income families. As the figure shows, without a college degree a child born into a family in the lowest quintile has a 45 percent change of remaining in that quintile as an adult and only a 5 percent chance of moving into the highest quintile.
One significant consequence of growing income inequality is that, by historical standards, high-income households are spending much more on their children’s education than low-income households. This figure shows enrichment expenditures—SAT prep, private tutors, computers, music lessons, and the like—by income level.
While social mobility and economic opportunity are important aspects of the American ethos, the data suggest they are more myth than reality. In fact, a child’s family income plays a dominant role in determining his or her future income, and those who start out poor are likely to remain poor. This figure shows the chances that a child’s future earnings will place him in the lowest the or the highest quintile depending on where his parents fell in the distribution (from left to right on the figure, the lowest, middle, and highest quintiles).