The headline story: many more Americans now believe that strong conflict exists between the rich and the poor. The surprising backstory: our attitude has NOT changed about how the rich got to be that way.
This follows up on my recent blog about the report by the Pew Research Center titled “Rising Share of Americans See Conflict Between Rich and Poor.” In just the last couple of years there has been a major spike in public perceptions that serious class conflict exists in our society. I would think that with a big shift like this, people’s attitudes about how the wealthy acquired their wealth would have changed, too. But it hasn’t.
So how would you answer this survey question?
“Which of these statements come closer to your own views—even if neither is exactly right: Most rich people today are wealthy mainly because of their own hard work, ambition or education. Or, most rich people today are wealthy mainly because they know the right people or were born into wealthy families.”
In the Pew survey, slightly more people—46%—said that a person’s wealth is the result of connections and birth, than those—43%—who said that it is a result of that person’s own efforts. Those percentages have virtually not shifted in the last three years. So if I’m reading this right, at the same time that many more Americans are feeling there’s more class conflict, no more of us are feeling that wealth is only for those born into it. In other words, just as many people continue to believe that wealth is attainable for those willing to work hard for it.
That belief may be a false hope for many since there is a lot of evidence that upward class mobility has taken a serious hit in America in the last decade or two. This may be reflected in the Pew report where it breaks down the differing responses among different categories of people: