Income inequality is growing in the United States. The poor are getting poorer, and the rich, richer. But that’s only part of the story: A new study shows that three out of every five Americans will spend at least one of their prime working years in poverty.
“There’s a great deal of fluidity in the income distribution,” says study co-author Thomas Hirschl, a professor of development sociology at Cornell University.
Most studies of income, Hirschl says, focus on just a few moments in time, but to understand how individuals’ incomes change over time takes more detailed data. For this new study, Hirschl and frequent collaborator Mark Rank analyzed data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which first interviewed members of about 4,800 households in 1968, and has been following them and their descendants ever since. Earlier this year, Hirschl and Rank published a study showing that a substantial portion (one in nine) of Americans spent at least a year earning incomes in the top one percent. Now, they wanted to know more about who was at the bottom.