It’s one of the biggest myths perpetuated by older generations, politicians, and the media – that if you work hard, all your dreams can come true. When presented with the reality of the situation for those living in poverty, and nowadays the middle class too, the myth of social mobility falls apart. Of course, this lie has its own effects too, since our country continually characterizes people of color and poor Americans as “lazy.”
Because of a whole host of social and economic conditions, described in detail in Sean McElwee’s article “The Myth of Social Mobility: Why Social Mobility is Beyond Ordinary People’s Control,” those who are poor tend to remain poor, and those who are rich tend to stay rich. Not only that but when examining race as well, non-White Americans tend to have a more difficult time moving up the social ladder. It’s impossible to truly examine every reason why the underprivileged can work their hardest every day and wind up in the same place they started in, while, at the same time, an orange cantaloupe born with a silver spoon in his mouth might become president this Tuesday. The first place to look, though, is with lower school education.
The statistics are pretty clear: Children from low-income backgrounds tend to go to worse schools. Parents who live in poverty and even the middle class cannot afford to send their children to the best private schools. Not only that, but the same parents cannot invest in their child’s education and school the way higher income parents can.
Well, why can’t the parent work harder and get out of poverty so that they can provide for their kid?
That’s exactly the mindset that characterizes poor Americans as lazy, and therefore to blame for their own financial troubles. The fact is that they do work harder. They work multiple jobs a day, just to make ends meet. One minimum-wage job is no longer enough to satisfy your needs, so now parents are not even home at night to read to their child the way families of greater privilege might. This has multiple effects. First, their children are worse off in school because they are not able to read or write well. Second, just making ends meet is not enough to feed a child well. Lack of nutrition, exhaustion and, as stated by Glasgow Elementary School Counselor, Brad Busby, “first graders with post-traumatic stress disorder,” make the jobs of well-meaning teachers much more difficult, and the jobs of students impossible.
The economic conditions that have been discussed up to this point cannot be separated from an analysis of race, as most low-income students who end up at underperforming schools tend to be Black or Hispanic. While a person's economic position causes these disparities, the effects disproportionately affect racial minorities. This makes the plight of low-income students significantly worse since funding tends to go to White schools over schools that are mostly made up of non-White students. This is due to the way local taxes work. White kids end up in higher-income communities as a result of a history of racial discrimination, including housing discrimination exemplified by the G.I. Bill and racist real estate business people, like my favorite person, Donald Trump. Those richer communities pay more in local taxes and therefore their local schools end up with more funding. To make matters worse for people of color, school segregation is coming back.
We tend to believe in many myths, not only the one of social mobility. The next one is that we have made continuous progress with respect discrimination. The stats disprove this one as well. According to Jeremy Fiela in Decomposing School Resegregation, “Today’s typical minority student attends school with fewer whites than his counterpart in 1970.” This troubling statistic is made worse when taken into the context of where funding goes. Remember that funding tends to follow White kids, so people of color end up in an even less promising situation. School segregation is a topic all by itself, so if you want a little bit of a laugh and more information on the re-segregation of schools, I highly recommend last week’s segment “School Segregation” on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight.
But, what’s the solution?
I propose that two policies need to go into effect. The first is the universal basic income. A universal basic income can help hard-working families who, right now, need to work two jobs to make ends meet spend more time with their family. Coupled with paternity and maternity leave, a universal basic income can let parents read to their children at night so that they develop the necessary reading skills to succeed in school and also feed their children enough so that they are nourished enough to focus in school. This is a necessary program that will cancel out the bureaucratic mess of social security, welfare and other programs, but is not even utopian when we take into consideration that we easily spend trillions of dollars on social programs and our military anyway. For more information on the above and the benefits of a universal basic income, I recommend Thom Hartmann’s many videos on the UBI. The second is more funding for low-income schools from the federal government. The specifics will require a second, and longer, article, but the idea is simple. The federal government usually does not focus on education. Local governments do. The problem with this, as described above, is that this causes a skew in funding for schools in low-income areas. This is the reason why the federal government should, and this may be scary for some people, distribute the wealth so that all kids get the opportunity to succeed. This isn’t material equality, this is just equality of opportunity.
Fighting against oppression requires a lot of work. It requires unending work. It also necessitates that we start at the very beginning, with elementary schools. Low-income schools need more funding, and we need to make sure that resurgence of segregated schools and neighborhoods does not continue. That's why we absolutely need a universal basic income for parents alongside increased federal funding for schools.
 McElwee, Sean; “The Myth Destroying America: Why Social Mobility is Beyond Ordinary People’s Control;” (March 7th, 2015); Salon, Policy Analyst at Demos Action; Accessed November 4th, 2016; http://www.salon.com/2015/03/07/the_myth_destroyin...
 Crouch, Elisa; “Poverty and Academic Struggle Go Hand-In-Hand;” (May 17th, 2014); Education, St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Accessed on November 4th, 2016; http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/education/pover...
 Same article as Cite #2
 Boschma, Janie; Brownstein, Ronald; “Students of Color Are Much More Likely to Attend High-Poverty Schools;” (February 29th, 2016); The Atlantic, Next America, Communities, Accessed on November 4th, 2016; http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/...
 White, Gillian B; “The Troubling Link Between School Funding and Race;” (September 30th, 2015); The Atlantic, Business; Accessed on November 4th, 2016; http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/0...
 Madrigal, Alexis C; “The Racist Housing Policy that Made Your Neighborhood;” (May 22nd, 2014); The Atlantic, Business; Accessed on November 4th, 2016; http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/0... ALSO READ: Coates' Case For Reparations - reference in the article
 Fiela, Jeremy E; “Decomposing School Resegregation;” (August 27th, 2013); American Sociology Review, Sage Journals, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Sociology, Accessed on November 4th, 2016; http://asr.sagepub.com/content/78/5/828.full
 Oliver, John; “School Segregation;” (October 30th, 2016); Last Week Tonight: HBO; Accessed on October 30th, 2016; link in the article
 Hartmann, Thom; “Time to Ditch Welfare for a Basic Income?” (July 6th, 2016); Big Picture RT, Also hosts a radio program, Accessed on July 6th, 2016; link in the article