|Source: The Pew Charitable Trusts (2012)|
How then do we tackle a problem that appears to be ingrained in our society? One excellent suggestion is for Congress to create an Office for Opportunity. Establishing such a Federal institution would protect social mobility from the waxing and waning of political attention. The Office would define and target a single measure or set of measures. These could cover early childhood development, K-12 and college results, labour market participation and / or family circumstances, to track progress over a lifetime. It would also publish commentary on how well the USA was doing against these measures.
But this might not be enough. The UK government has set up a similar body, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission. The Commission sets out targets for, and reports on progress against, a set of indicators. The trouble is that the general public have little awareness of its existence and so do not protest when goals are not met. Few know that the UK government has also committed in legislation to eradicate child poverty by 2020. Fewer still know that because of severe cuts to social security, the number of children in poverty could rise to 5 million by that time. For this reason, Save the Children UK recently launched its campaign, "A Fair Start for Every Child", asking for specific measures to ensure that a child's birth does not determine its chance in life. (Disclosure: I was the lead author on their report).
What is required is a society-wide strategy to hold governments to account on their commitments. Such an approach was taken with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were publicly agreed by participating members. Armed with the knowledge of what their government had promised, developing country citizens were empowered to push leaders to deliver on specific promises. Learning from this, the US government should publicly commit to a set of SMDGs (Social Mobility Development Goals). It should undertake an extensive public awareness campaign to garner action by civil society. This would also ensure that ruling parties are held to account by the public. Only by doing so can we get America moving and have a decent shot of turning the American dream into a reality.