Economic Mobility in a Time of Economic Crisis


This study commissioned by the Economic Mobility Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts in March 2009 takes an in depth look at Americans’ sense of economic mobility in the current climate. This study was executed by the Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies. It involved 10 focus groups among a diverse group of Americans, as well as a survey of 2,119 adults, including oversamples of African Americans, younger (under age 40) Americans and Hispanics.

Anna Greenberg & Dave Walker

Pew Economic Mobility Project

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America is in the midst of an economic crisis, yet Americans remain resilient, optimistic about their own future and confident in their ability to succeed. A new study commissioned by the Economic Mobility Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts takes an in depth look at Americans’ sense of economic mobility in the current climate.

This study was executed by the Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies. It involved 10 focus groups among a diverse group of Americans, as well as a survey of 2,119 adults, including oversamples of African Americans, younger (under age 40) Americans and Hispanics.

Key Findings

  • Despite the economic downturn, Americans are optimistic about their opportunities for economic mobility and the future opportunities for their children.
  • Americans believe they as individuals control their own economic mobility and destiny; this is consistent even among lower-income Americans.
  • Americans focus more on opportunity than equality in economic outcomes, but are concerned about the ability of lower-income Americans to move up the economic ladder.
  • Americans are skeptical of government’s ability to improve the economic mobility of other people, but believe a range of government policies would be effective in encouraging upward mobility.
  • Definitions of the American Dream vary, but some core themes emerge, including the value of freedom and the importance of leaving the next generation better off. Importantly, the American Dream is not defined entirely by financial issues or by “becoming rich.”