Social Strategies for Socioeconomic Mobility

Pam Sornson, JD

If an entire community benefits when most of its constituents are ‘upwardly mobile,’ why aren’t communities building into their infrastructures pathways to achieve that upward trend? Why do some residents have opportunities for growth when their neighbors do not? In many cases, the absence of social and economic resources that support upward mobility is intentional. In other cases, the question of how to ensure equitable access to a brighter future has simply never been asked.


Four Policies = One Upwardly Mobile Society

So how does a society create pathways to mobility that are accessible to all its inhabitants? As asserted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), providing equal access to growth opportunities for citizens, regardless of their original economic or social situation, is an easier target than trying to assure comparable growth outcomes for all individuals. Further, the OECD asserts that communities can open the doors to upward mobility opportunities for all their residents by following four primary recommendations:

Increase public investments in education and health care for lower economic population tiers,

Revise labor and economic policies to champion work/family balance

Focus efforts on attaining equitable wealth accumulation opportunities throughout their social strata, and

Reduce the regional divides and spatial segregation of their districts so that all residents can live, work, and thrive in the neighborhoods of their choice.

Adherence to these standards will facilitate upward mobility for anyone who takes advantage of their resources. Additionally, it will provide the cushioning needed to buffer the adverse shocks and undesired impacts of low-income volatility, which can erode the individual’s capacity to succeed while also placing an extra burden on the social safety net.


Increase Education and Health Care Support

Research indicates that children raised in adverse economic situations typically do worse than their more financially stable neighbors, both educationally and healthwise.

constellation of factors negatively impacts children living below the poverty line, eroding their access and ability to embrace educational resources. In many cases, their schools lack adequate materials and supplies, while their parents are too overwhelmed by work and other concerns to support the learning their children need. When parents themselves are less educated, the cycle of poverty, both economically and educationally, repeats through the generations, impeding any progress toward upward m

An impoverished childhood also often means ongoing or life-long health challenges for the adults they become, including behavioral disorders, chronic disease, and even premature death. Children raised in impoverished conditions frequently develop conduct disorders such as ADHD or cognitive dysfunctions such as short-term memory loss, which can continue to plague them throughout their lives, even if they achieve any additional level of financial stability.

Providing all families with the food, housing, and healthcare support they need to survive and move forward reduces their drain on public resources while adding future economic assets to the community.


Assure a Work/Life Balance for Lower Income Families

Analysts recommend that policymakers acknowledge the additional burdens placed on their economically strained populations. Working multiple jobs or many hours a day keep parents away from their children for too long, especially during their most vulnerable early years. Social policies that facilitate suitable transportation or provide financial supplements to replace hours not worked can give parents ad children the time together needed to ensure an adequate learning environment in the home. Further, community-based child care, low-cost or free preschool, and other publicly funded resources can stabilize a family and build a foundation upon which they can grow beyond their current economic class.


Level the ‘Wealth Acquisition’ Playing Field

Data reveals that wealthier families tend to stay wealthy, and poorer families tend to stay poor, not because they are destined for those outcomes but because the systems are designed to maintain that status quo. Notable tax advantages, savings and investing resources, and multiple wealth-preserving economic exemptions all favor wealthier citizens while being unavailable to their less affluent neighbors. In many jurisdictions, the financial system is intentionally steered to reduce the tax rates for wealthy community members through a series of deductions and exemptions, so they pay a smaller percentage in taxes than their less-wealthy neighbors. In other areas, policies prohibited upward financial mobility by allowing banks to limit loan access to borrowers who would use them to buy houses or start businesses. The practice intentionally suppressed the economic growth capacity of millions of Americans.


Release Untapped Resources by Eliminating Segregation

The segregation of whole populations because of color, religion, or some other determiner has been a common practice in America since its inception. The effort has cost the country untold trillions as a result. Worse, the concept of ‘income segregation,’ the separation of communities based on their relative income levels, has been growing, even while poverty and unemployment levels are dropping.

Research reveals that people earning higher salaries tend to gather and live in close-knit neighborhoods, which are unaffordable to those who make less money. They intentionally or inadvertently ‘segregate’ themselves into these high-wealth factions, which are inaccessible to those not equally qualified. The practice reduces the opportunity for less-wealthy people to achieve the mobility necessary to join them:

Those high-earners frequently gained that capacity through access to advanced educational resources, assets that are only available to people with more financial resources.

Further, those wealthy community members then invested in the educational resources needed by their children to grow and thrive, and those children, in turn, moved to neighborhoods with escalated property values that froze out less financially secure families while spreading the income gap even wider.

These trends have been steady since the 1980s. Many of today’s wealthiest communities are the beneficiaries of the policies and practices that have effectively ‘walled in’ their economic advantages at the expense of their neighbors in general and their society at large. The community as a whole suffers because it can’t access or release the untapped resources trapped in the lower economic classes, who, in turn, can’t access the educational resources they need to raise their financial profile.

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