NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 5, 2005

The New York Times, in its multipart series, "Class Matters," claims that class is so powerful, it has come to play a greater, not lesser role in American life. Interestingly, the Times itself provides the strongest evidence against this conclusion, says Bruce Bartlett, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Consider the poll data it compiled for its series. In 1983, people were asked, "Do you think it's still possible to start out poor in this country, work hard and become rich?"

  • At the time, only 57 percent of respondents agreed with this proposition, while 38 percent disagreed.
  • By the 1990s, the percentage of positive responses had risen to 70.
  • As of March 2005, 80 percent said it was possible for anyone to become rich in America, while only 19 percent said it was not.

The Times poll also provides a useful perspective on intergenerational mobility. In one question, people were asked: Compared to your parents when they were the age you are now, do you think your own standard of living now is much better, somewhat better, about the same, somewhat worse, or much worse than theirs was?"

  • In 1994, the first time the question was asked, 31 percent answered "much better," 32 percent "somewhat better," 21 percent "about the same," 11 percent "somewhat worse," and 3 percent "much worse."
  • In 2005, the corresponding figures were 39 percent, 27 percent, 20 percent, 9 percent and 4 percent.

In other questions, people were asked to compare their social class today with the one in which they grew up. Across the board, they responded the same way, reporting that they lived in a higher social class today, says Bartlett.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, "Class Struggle in America?" Commentary, July-August 2005; and "Class Matters," New York Times, May 15, 2005.

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