[...] the distribution of education is more easily modified through government policies and has broader popular support than the redistribution of other assets, such as land or financial wealth. To meet these challenges, the government must develop flexible criteria for eligibility that can better capture sharp, short-term income declines and protect valuable educational investments by affected families. [...] a forceful policy promoting educational investments needs to be coupled with increased school construction, especially in rural, isolated areas.
Mexico’s Fragile Middle Class With the right policies, the Mexican government can protect the middle class and overcome intergenerational poverty—despite the crisis. Florencia Torche Can Latin American governments tack- colonial history and institutions, but a major driver le inequality in the midst of the global economic of today’s income gap is the uneven access to pub- downturn? Although some countries—most nota- lic goods such as education. Unequal access to edu- bly Brazil and Chile—have made dramatic gains in cation and other productive assets is not only the reducing poverty and expanding the middle class, source of wide economic disparities, but it also pre- Latin America remains, in the first decade of the vents intergenerational mobility. twenty-first century, one of the world’s most unequal Examining the case of Mexico can help us find regions. Inequality has deep roots in the region’s ways to understand this phenomenon. The gap 76 americas quarterly s p r i n g 2009 a m e r i c a s q u a r t e r ly . o r g between the rich and the poor in Mexico has remained Intergenerational mobility captures the extent largely unchanged over the past two decades. Recent to which an individual’s socioeconomic position studies about intergenerational mobility indicate that depends on social background. In an immobile soci- AP Photo/Miguel tovAr public support for education, especially for the most ety, “accidents of birth” strongly determine individ- needy, is the key to providing equal opportunity. The ual attainment. In a mobile society, by contrast, the lesson is applicable to the entire region, particularly if opportunity for economic success (and failure) will be it is to shore up and defend the social gains of the last more equally distributed across individuals of differ- decade in the midst of an economic crisis. ent social backgrounds. As such, mobility provides a a m e r i c a s q u a r t e r ly . o r g spring 2009 americas quarterly 77 measure of equality of opportunity across countries. status is 60 percent, and the chance of remaining in Even though mobility and inequality are correlat- the top two quintiles is a solid 85 percent. In other ed—higher levels of inequality mean that parental words, if you’re born wealthy in Mexico, you’re like- resources weigh more on individual attainment— ly to stay there. If you’re born poor (the two lowest mobility matters in and of itself for at least three rea- quintiles) you’re about 74 percent likely to remain sons. The first of these is normative. A society that there too. fails to value equal opportunity and merit over social Is the Mexican level of intergenerational immobil- background and economic status is simply unjust. ity unusual? For the purposes of comparison I look Social mobility also matters from an efficiency per- at Chile, which has comparable levels of economic spective. A social and economic system that does development and inequality, and Sweden, known for not reward individual merit wastes its most precious its high mobility. resource: human cap
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