# Is America The Land of Opportunity ?

I'd just like to point out the inherent bias in this conversation.

If you're participating in this conversation, you have a computer with internet acess. There are plenty of Americans whom do not have a computer with internet access, or even a computer at all. There are plenty of people in America who don't have these opportunities that are being discussed, and because they have no opportunity, they can't discuss this here.

wasteofo2 said:
I'd just like to point out the inherent bias in this conversation.

If you're participating in this conversation, you have a computer with internet acess. There are plenty of Americans whom do not have a computer with internet access, or even a computer at all. There are plenty of people in America who don't have these opportunities that are being discussed, and because they have no opportunity, they can't discuss this here.
Good point, but isn't this bias the result of self-selection? The people who aren't contributing to this discussion just goofing off, just as they probably did all through high school. They would rather register their protest by making themselves part of the national crime statistics, which is about the only initiative they are ever likely to show.

loseyourname
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I recently saw again references to studies that I had been seeing for a couple of years, to the effect that social mobility in the US is in fact notably less than in many other countries. Google has failed to find these sites for me again, but I assure you this was good sociology, not partisan sniping. Has anyone else seen this?
That probably depends on which classes are being looked at. Not that I have any backing, but it seems anyway that moving from the very lowest class into the middle class would be far more difficult than moving from the middle class into the upper classes. It also depends on what is meant by "middle class." The term is so widely encompassing that, if it is being used generally, a person can seriously increase their buying power and social status without moving out of the middle class. Another thing is that Russ didn't seem to be claiming that class mobility is necessarily going to be very prevalent, only that it was possible and encouraged by the American ethos, very Horatio Alger. Any person with the drive and intelligence to make a good life for themselves should be able to do it.

Of course, this is all speculation. Russ remains the only person to post any actual numbers.

loseyourname said:
Of course, this is all speculation. Russ remains the only person to post any actual numbers.
Show your numbers to the kids in Downtown LA. (Dang, we've been here before). Second thoughts: Show your numbers to all of the stockbrokers from Downtown LA.

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loseyourname said:
That probably depends on which classes are being looked at. Not that I have any backing, but it seems anyway that moving from the very lowest class into the middle class would be far more difficult than moving from the middle class into the upper classes. It also depends on what is meant by "middle class." The term is so widely encompassing that, if it is being used generally, a person can seriously increase their buying power and social status without moving out of the middle class. Another thing is that Russ didn't seem to be claiming that class mobility is necessarily going to be very prevalent, only that it was possible and encouraged by the American ethos, very Horatio Alger. Any person with the drive and intelligence to make a good life for themselves should be able to do it.

Of course, this is all speculation. Russ remains the only person to post any actual numbers.

I am still without firm confirmation, but I seem to recall the movement in question was between the income quintiles.

loseyourname
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the number 42 said:
Show your numbers to the kids in Downtown LA. (Dang, we've been here before). Second thoughts: Show your numbers to all of the stockbrokers from Downtown LA.
Do you listen to nothing??? There are very few kids and certainly no stockbrokers in Downtown LA. It's barely started to become a residential neighborhood in the last 5 years. Young professionals and USC students. That's it.

Heck, my dad grew up in East LA. That's the bad part. His mom stabbed his neighbor and his brother was shot. He's done fine. It isn't easy, but the opportunity is there. He even has a government job. That should warm your heart - the government helping people get out of the ghetto.

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Mentor
I am still without firm confirmation, but I seem to recall the movement in question was between the income quintiles.
There is a flaw in using income brackets (yes, I know I'm the one who defined class mobility according to the brackets), and that is that 20% is always 20% - if people get richer, that doesn't necessarily mean they change brackets, it could just mean the brackets themselves change.

In the US, that means the upper limit of the bottom 5th is $17,984 today, and in 1963, it was$14,002.

I'm looking around for other countries - HERE is a graph for the UK - it has no history, but its interesting to see where their brackets fall today and how substantial income redistribution is.

In any case, the point of this thread is how easy it is to move up - and as we all know, even if its easy, some people will choose not to do it. I would imagine the opportunities are similar in most western nations - I wonder how much the income redistribution helps/hurts it.

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russ_watters said:
In any case, the point of this thread is how easy it is to move up - and as we all know, even if its easy, some people will choose not to do it. I
Yea, but what does that mean? Since, as you've admitted, when you move up someone else moves down....

If it's so easy to move up, that must mean it's easy to move down. You could move up a notch, have your income rise by inflation one year and be moved down one - and yet, you wouldn't be worse off for it. Heck, you could never increase your income at all and have upward social mobility if those above you just stopped making so much darn money.

I'm not sure this entire thread, from start to finish, makes any sense at all.

It is clear to me now that I could be more effective if I replaced my last posts with one that more accurately points out my problem with the argument made by the opening post. You see, I too agree that the US has a lot of opportunities for its residents. My big problem is the standard by which this was definined: class mobility.

Class mobility? What classes, exactly, and how are they to be defined? If this thread gives us any indication, classes are represented by splitting the population up equally and seeing who makes more money each year. So basically, when you say the US is a land of opportunity, you mean that here you can make more money that other people. There is no suggestion that you are healthy, happy, well off etc, but just that you are capable of competing financially with your peers.

If everyone in the US made 1/10th as much money - but the money could still only buy as much as it does now - then we'd all be worse off. But hey, there would still be mobility. The converse is true as well; if we, after inflation, all made more money, we'd be better off, and I propose we'd have more opportunities. Yet we'd all still be in the same class brackets.

So here are some opportunities I think are more reasonable judges of whether the US is the land of opportunity - though I'll admit, they might not be the traditional factors.

Opportunity to travel
Opportunity to speak freely
Opportunity to choose one's plot in life, for better or worse
Opportunity to associate with whom we choose
Opportunity to marry whom we choose - with a few notable exceptions
Opportunity to make as much money as the market will provide us

Ok, so there are many more. But I consider a list like that to be a much better judge of whether the US is a land of opportunity. It just makes more sense to me personally. Maybe others would disagree.

One problem I have with the entire conversation, are the statements made implicitly. It is my opinion that, implicit in the statement "America is the land of opportunity" is the statement "if you work hard, you will succeed." I consider the first statement true and not the second. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe the second isn't being implied by the speaker. However, I have a suspicion I'm right, and it always make me uncomfortable when the subject comes up.

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Locrian said:
Yea, but what does that mean? Since, as you've admitted, when you move up someone else moves down....
I used the income tables largely as an example of where the divisions are. The question is maybe better stated: can you do better - and if so, how hard (or easy) is it to do better?

It is important to note though: since the scale is a sliding one, one person doing better does not automatically imply another is doing worse.
If it's so easy to move up, that must mean it's easy to move down. You could move up a notch, have your income rise by inflation one year and be moved down one - and yet, you wouldn't be worse off for it.
Certainly, but I'm more concerned with the question of how hard or easy is it to move up. Staying there is a separate question, though in my opinion, staying there is easier than getting there.
Heck, you could never increase your income at all and have upward social mobility if those above you just stopped making so much darn money.
That is not correct: if your income stays the same, your buying power stays the same and everything related to it stays the same. This is where using the fifths thing breaks down again - a better measure for the purpose of this thread would be relative to the poverty line, an arbitrary "middle class" living condition, and an arbitary wealthy living condition. But such numbers are harder to find. My examples covered it though: I demonstrated that it is relatively easy to make significantly more money and thus significantly improve your living conditions.

russ_watters said:
It is important to note though: since the scale is a sliding one, one person doing better does not automatically imply another is doing worse.
Exactly my point - using the methods we've been using - the fifths divisions - it would look like they were, even though they weren't.

This is where using the fifths thing breaks down again - a better measure for the purpose of this thread would be relative to the poverty line, an arbitrary "middle class" living condition, and an arbitary wealthy living condition. But such numbers are harder to find. My examples covered it though: I demonstrated that it is relatively easy to make significantly more money and thus significantly improve your living conditions.
Definately, I would agree that defining whether you are improving your conditions by comparing with the poverty line to be a far, far more functional measure.

As for your example... well, maybe. You definately showed that one person could do it, and suggested hypothetically that others could. Even if we drop all the fifths, I'm still wary of it as an example. First, it seems to me that giving up the opportunity to live where you want, giving up the opportunity for free speech on a wide range of issues, giving up the opportunity to choose where you want to work and for how long (along with other opportunities lost), only to gain the opportunity to make money - does this really show that america is the land of opportunity? This, to me, doen't make much of a case.

Secondly, examples are, well, examples. I could give an example of someone who just didn't have the opportunity to change social class. For instance, they were born in the slums and shot to death before 16. Would this show that america is not the land of opportunity?

I appreciate your point of view on the topic. Still, I don't think any kind of substantial case has been made in this thread. I don't mean to just be critical and not contribute - you see, the problem I have with the statement "America is the land of Opportunity" is that I'm not sure whether it can be proven or disproven at all, or even that is has much meaning.

Mentor
To elaborate somewhat on my point here, the point is, essentially, to dispel the common myth (so commmon that its a cliche) that "you can't get ahead [in this town/city/country/world]" and explore the implications of this (ie, if "you can't get ahead" on your own, then the government should help you). It is related to the similar misconception that "the rich get richer while the poor get poorer."

In any case, I think I've shown that not only can you "get ahead," but its actually relatively easy.

loseyourname said:
Do you listen to nothing???
:rofl: Huh? This is like two blind guys arguing over the colour of a booger.

loseyourname said:
There are very few kids and certainly no stockbrokers in Downtown LA. It's barely started to become a residential neighborhood in the last 5 years. Young professionals and USC students. That's it.

Heck, my dad grew up in East LA. That's the bad part. His mom stabbed his neighbor and his brother was shot. He's done fine. It isn't easy, but the opportunity is there. He even has a government job. That should warm your heart - the government helping people get out of the ghetto.
Cool. I get the point. Downtown L.A.? I LOVE it, okay?

I am just picking the name as one I have heard, probably from 80s gangsta movies, as you said before. Great. My point is coming from a downbeat area - not an ex-downbeat area - puts you at a disadvantage. Your dad has done fine - well done to him, genuinely. But surely you know better than most the point I am making, that the people with the most money are those from middle class backgrounds rather than the ghettos (not ex-ghettos). Surely we agree on this general rule?

loseyourname
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I'm just playing with you, 42. I could care less what you think of LA. And yes, I agree. People that live in nice neighborhoods generally have more money than people who live in bad neighborhoods. Except of course in Manhattan, where people will pay $4000 a month for a studio with no indoor plumbing. loseyourname said: I'm just playing with you, 42. I could care less what you think of LA. And yes, I agree. People that live in nice neighborhoods generally have more money than people who live in bad neighborhoods. Except of course in Manhattan, where people will pay$4000 a month for a studio with no indoor plumbing.
Agghh! What do you know about Manhattan? My granny OWNS Manhattan!!!
etc etc. Just funnin'.