Social mobility is lacking in America

Pei Chao Zhuo, Opinions Editor

In 2015, the College Board redesigned the SAT. A major component of overhaul was a partnership between Khan Academy and the Collegeboard to offer free SAT prep. This initiative spawned from criticisms that the SAT exacerbated economic inequalities since wealthy families collectively funnel millions each year into the test preparation industry to give their children the edge. Classes for the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) can cost hundreds of dollars, and tutors often cost in excess of thousands of dollars, putting them out of reach for economically disadvantaged students.

Richard Reeves, a scholar at the Brookings Institute, has labeled these actions of the educated elites to perpetuate their affluence across generations “dream hoarding.” He notes that media’s lampooning of the extravagance of top one percent ignores a broader divide between the upper middle class and everyone else.

The upper middle class is made up of families in the top 20 percent of the income distribution who make in excess of 120,000 dollars a year. Their efforts to maintain their wealth has severely hindered social mobility in America. According to data from the Brookings Institute, about half of children born into both the top and bottom quintiles of the income distribution are going to remain there in adulthood.

These elite families support a variety of policies to consolidate their advantages. In addition to supporting a vast test preparation industry, they implement zoning ordinances that prevent the construction of multi-family homes in their neighborhoods, thus enabling them to protect the educational and extracurricular opportunities available in their affluent communities. Their children gain an upper hand when applying to their alma maters through the policy of legacy admissions and can access unpaid internships that are inaccessible to those from families with lower incomes. They also lobby politicians to maintain regressive tax policies like tax exemptions for the 529 college savings plan, which are used primarily by the upper middle class.

Growing inequality has created a severe disconnect between the rich and the poor, exacerbating political and social divisions. It also contradicts the American ideal of equal opportunity. To remediate this problem, people who are privileged enough to attend a quality high school and attain a college degree need to more willing to share their opportunities. Zoning laws need to be reformed to allow for low income housing. College admissions policies need to be modified to take into account economic factors. We, Americans, pride ourselves on promoting social mobility. Now, it is the time to make that a reality.