A Call for a Better “Measure of the Nation”

657-cover-cropped.480.361.sUnderlying many of our nation’s major historical moments is a commitment to equal opportunity for all individuals. Accessibility to opportunity ought not to have anything to do with race, religious affiliation, family background, or gender. Each successive generation should enjoy material benefits and comforts that exceed those of earlier generations. These philosophies are bounded in the idea of mobility, social and economic. Yet our nation’s interest in and commitment to social mobility lacks a mechanism for measuring this very phenomenon. In ANNALS volume 657, “Monitoring Social Mobility in the Twenty-First Century,”special editors David B. Grusky, Timothy M. Smeeding, and C. Matthew Snipp gather authors to confront the consequences of this data gap and advance ideas for creating an infrastructure capable of tracking social mobility. Richard Reeves, one of the volume’s authors and Senior Fellow in Economic Studies at Brookings, makes the case for a better data-collection infrastructure in a December 2014 “Social Mobility Memo,” not only because “[i]t is time to get some better numbers” but because, as Reeves writes in his ANNALS contribution, “To make progress, we will need … a strong commitment to improving our empirical understanding of the dynamics of mobility. When success in life depends on our start in life, the ideal of American fairness is imperiled. Our measures of social mobility, then, are not merely empirical ones. They are the measure of the nation.”