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New Study: America's 'Exceptional' Economic Mobility Is Actually Just Exceptionally Bad

With more news of strikes in the fast food industry and concerns about low wages in other retail industries, economic inequality continues to emerge as a growing issue heading into 2014. According to results of a new study, there's good reason for concern:

It's easier to rise above the class you're born into in countries like Japan, Germany, Australia, and the Scandinavian nations, according to research from University of Ottawa economist and current Russell Sage Foundation Fellow Miles Corak.

Among the major developed countries, only in Italy and the United Kingdom is there less economic mobility [than in the United States], according to Corak.

The research measures "intergenerational earnings elasticity" — a type of economic mobility that measures the correlation between what your parents make and what you make one generation later — in a number of different countries around the world…

..If why Americans have a harder time making it into the middle class is a bit of a mystery to economists, why Americans cling to the belief that it's still easy to do is even more baffling. It could be because, during the late 1800s and early 1900, the United States was a much more mobile country than Britain, said Jason Long, an economist at Wheaton College in Illinois.

"It's clear that Americans still believe that America has exceptional mobility, and that's not true," said Long. He calling it "vexing" that "lots of people could be systematically mistaken about verifiable, factual information."

This gap between what Americans believe and what research shows to be true is apparent in recent comments by Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who wants to end extended unemployment benefits. From The Washington Post:

“When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you’re causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy,” he said on Fox News Sunday. If the unemployed stopped receiving benefits sooner, they would be back to work sooner, he suggested.

Extended benefits expire at the end of the year, meaning job-seekers in most states will only get 26 weeks of unemployment insurance, instead of 43 or more in most. That deadline represents an immediate cutoff for 1.3 million people, according to the National Employment Law Project. Paul's comments came in response to President Obama's call for an extension of those benefits.

In other words, Sen. Paul apparently believes that there are plenty of jobs out there — people just don't bother trying to get them.

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