Economic Mobility in Black and White All parents hope that their children will climb to the next rung of the economic ladder — but success may depend in part on the color of their skin. Studies show that while many white children fare better than their parents, black children are increasingly worse off than the previous generation.
NPR logo

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/18576278/18576273" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Economic Mobility in Black and White

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/18576278/18576273" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan broadcasting today from the Turpin-Lamb Theater in the Carl Murphy Fine Arts Center at Morgan State University in Baltimore.

(Soundbite of applause)

Now, those of you in the audience who are the first in your family to attend college, just shout out hey.

Unidentified Group: Hey.

CONAN: Well, that's going to be important.

Our subject today - late last year, The Pew Charitable Trusts published the results of surveys that test the vitality of the American dream. And a big part of that is economic mobility.

Well, two-thirds of Americans, who were children in 1968 - people now in their 30s and 40s - earned more money than their parents did at the same age. Researchers were shocked to learn that 45 percent of African-Americans born into middle-class families during the 1960s, now, do worse than their parents.

And in turn, today, were among hundreds of African-Americans students who hope to surpass their parents and in turn see their children do even better. Yet, the Pew study suggests that even when African-Americans reached the middle class, their grip on economic and social status is fragile.

We invite black students and parents to join us today. If you're a student, do you expect to do better than your parents? And parents, do you think your children will do better than you?

Our number, as usual, 800-989-8255. E -mail is talk@npr.org. And you can tell us your story on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. And we're going to be taking questions, of course, from people in the audience here at Morgan State.

Later on the program, we're going to listen to the acclaimed Morgan State Choir and talk with conductor Eric Conway.

But first, let me introduce John Morton, the managing director of economic policy at The Pew Charitable Trusts who is with us here on the stage.

And thanks for joining us today in Baltimore.

Mr. JOHN MORTON (Managing Director, Program Planning and Economic Policy, The Pew Charitable Trusts): Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: And I understand that that one result - that 45 percent of black fell out of the middle class, that was so surprising that the researcher had to go back and check it a couple of times?

Mr. MORTON: That's right. I mean, this is a pretty provocative and astonishing finding. And let's just reflect for a moment on what we're talking about here in terms of economic mobility. What we decided was in the lead up to this election cycle - where there is going to be a very robust economic debate around lots of issues that you've no doubt been reading about, including income inequality and issues that we're quite important, but yet very divisive, could we put a project together and do some research around this question of economic mobility, which to our belief really forms the fabric of the American dream. This question of can you do better than the generation that came before you, and, is where you are born - does that dictate where you end up?

And I think both of those questions are core questions to the American dream. First, you want to have a better standard of living than the generation that came before. And second, that the parents to whom you are born, the income of the parents to who you are born, should not dictate where you end up. And in fact, as Neal just suggested, by and large, two-thirds of the American families - and these are families that we matched, who we followed over a 40-year period - in fact, have higher family incomes 40 years later. So children that were born in the late '60s end up being part of families that have higher family incomes 40 years later - two-thirds of those families.

But a full - nearly half or 45 percent of children born to middle-income African-American families have fallen down to the bottom quintile - the bottom 20 percent of family incomes over that same period.

So big picture, a fairly good picture for certain portions of the population, in particularly this middle-income African-American portion, an altogether different story and a very, very disappointing one.

CONAN: And it's been said that one of the reasons Americans tolerate such wide disparities in income is the idea that, well, even if I was born poor, I can reach the top, that there's mobility. And, in fact, your study suggested that of those born in the bottom 20 percent, a very small fraction ever made it to the top.

Mr. MORTON: I think that's a very important point, Neal, I just want everyone out who's listening to focus on that. The proposition in the U.S. has been for generations that we have high levels of income inequality here. We have traditionally, compared to other European countries in particular or other developed countries. But the trade off has been that everyone has got an equal shot at the top. And so we will live with - we will - we are content to live in a society were we accept certain levels of inequality so long as each person has a chance to make it. And I think that these findings suggest that there are portions, not just African-Americans, but other portions of society who have a very, very hard time making it up the ladder.

And I think the question, we, as the Pew project hope to provoke here is, why is that? Why is that? What are the underlying causes that keep people in the same position? And just one more data point, 42 percent - this is not African-Americans, this is everybody - 42 percent of children born to that bottom 20 percent of family earners are still in that bottom 20 percent as adults. So we have a very, if you will, sticky bottom of the distribution where people born in the bottom remain there for a generation or longer.

CONAN: Well, let's ask why. Ellis Cose also joins us here at Morgan State, he's a contributing editor and columnist for Newsweek magazine and author of "The Rage of a Privilege Class." And again, thank you for being with us today.

Mr. ELLIS COSE (Contributing Editor and Columnist, Newsweek Magazine; Author, "The Rage of a Privilege Class"): My pleasure, Neal.

CONAN: So why? Why is this?

Mr. COSE: Well, I think, first of all, I just want to make a point, which is that anyone who's followed the issues of poverty and race for the last 40 or 50 years knows that it's not that easy to move from being poor to being rich in this country. There is the dream. There is the illusion. There is the thought. But it really is not as easy. I need people to know that.

But let's talk about these figures for a second. Because, I mean, I find them fascinating, as you say, provocative. But on reflection, really not all that shocking. And I'll tell you why. The American family is fundamentally different now than it was in the 1960s. The American family, if you - as you recall in 1965, there was the Moynihan Report…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. COSE: …which talked about what he called - well, he got himself so tangled up on words, he talked about a tangle of pathology, and he got a whole lot of negative attention. But his essential point was that, at that point, one-fourth of black American families were headed by women, that one-fourth of births of black children with a woman who were not married.

You go forward to where we are now. That looks like a small figure. Now, we're talking about over two-thirds. So what that says is that the family has fundamentally changed. If you're looking at a family back then, you're most likely to look at other family with two people and maybe two incomes. Look at a middle class family now, you're looking at one - most likely, with one income.

Something else - there's also has - I think worth mentioning. I was struck by a phrase in the study about the solidly middle class. And I will take issue with that phrase, because I don't think making in the mid-50s by current income standards makes you solidly middle class. It makes you capable of surviving, but it does not make you solidly middle class. And particularly, when you put that into the context…

CONAN: It depends where you live in the country, but I see your point.

Mr. COSE: But particularly put in the context of a lot of research was shown that even black people who make the same kind of income as white people, don't have the same kind of reserves or wealth. By one study, they have 8 percent on average of the wealth of a similarly situated white family.

So I think you're talking about people who were tenuously in the middle class, who were very fragile middle class to begin with. And there's a book that came out a few years ago by Sharon Collins called "The Making and the Breaking of the Black Middle Class." And part of her point was that this thing were calling the middle class, for most people, it's the first generation is in that class and they have not a very large grasp, very tight grasp on jobs. And many of these people - not the ones you looked at - many of the people in the middle class are there because you have two essentially working class kind of poor people making a middle class income.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Let's get some input from here in the audience at Morgan State University. The microphone to my left.

KIM (Student): Hi. My name is Kimberly Armstrong(ph). And I grew up in a quote, unquote, "middle class family." I grew up right across the street from Morgan State University. And I like to consider myself a middle class dwindling probably into the poor class. My fear is that I don't - I have a 23-year-old son who I don't really know will be in a middle class, because rent now is $1200 a month. He's been having to move back and forth, you know, in with me. Because his income and by the economy, everything is being so expensive now.

I mean, I can't - the average home is two or $300,000. I can't even afford a 200 or 300,000 household. You know, I think our kids today have a lot more challenges when we look at income, when you talk about the gas and electric bill, when you talk about food. At the same time, you have the cost of living going up but you don't have people's incomes going up. I see more and more families where people have to start moving in with each other just to maintain and survive. And I'm talking about on an adult level.

So when you start talking about our children and the youth, and especially coming out of college who can't even get a halfway decent job to just survive. So it's kind of like - I don't know if you've ever watched "Good Times," but when you watch "Good Times," I think I'm still living in those times.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARMSTRONG: And I was just born in 1968, you know. So I'm kind of like leery and I'm just, you know, in a class and I really don't know what class I'm in and I think a lot of people have fallen into that trap where they really don't even know what class they're going to be in because, you know, we just got things talking about Obama.

CONAN: Right.

Ms. KIMBERLY: And I say, all right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Miss, before you go, Kimberly Armstrong?

Ms. ARMSTRONG: Yes?

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: First, you can accept your applause. And also, let me ask, your son, did he get the chance to go to college?

Ms. ARMSTRONG: No. Actually, I am really the first person who ever even probably thought about going to college and made it somewhat. But my son, he's just a, I guess you could say, average working. He's married. He has his own family. But there are times when he has to call me, continue to ask me to help him because, you know, things are so expensive and he's not really making the kind of income that he really would like to make.

CONAN: And - thank you very much and we appreciate it. And John Morton, that raises a lot of questions about what exactly is middle class, what we're talking about here?

Mr. MORTON: Absolutely. I think there's two points in response to both what Ellis said and what Kimberly said. The question of middle class is a very, very difficult one to put your hands around. We actually talked about middle income here. And so we specifically try to avoid the question of class because class is really, you know, it's in the eyes of the beholder. I think there are people who make $200,000 a year consider himself middle class. And there are folks who make $40,000 a year consider themselves middle class. We don't make a statement about that. What we're talking about here is, again, for just purposes of the statistics. Forty-five percent of African-American kids born to middle income, which means the folks in the middle of the income distribution across the economy as a whole.

The other point I'll pick up on that Ellis mentioned in terms of family structure, that's a very important point, very important point. There's been significant changes to family structures, not just in the black community, in the white community over the last 40 years as well. You've had two competing dynamics. One is you've had women entering the workforce at record levels, going from about 30 percent to about 60 percent participation in the labor force, which has, in fact, increased the number of dual-income families. But at the same time, you have fewer families that are actually - two incomes with children.

So these two factors have been working against each other. As a result, we see family incomes over the last 30 years - again, for blacks and whites - going up but only by about 10 percent over a 40-year period.

CONAN: We're talking about economic mobility this hour. More of the struggle for African-Americans to climb the economic ladder, and then, more of the struggle to stay there and see their children surpass them.

When we come back, more of your stories and we'll talk about what middle class really means. 800-989-8255, if you'd like to join us. E-mail is talk@npr.org.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan on the campus of Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: We're talking about economic mobility this hour, particularly for African-Americans in the struggle to enter the middle class and stay there. We're talking today in Theatre Morgan with John Morton, managing director of economic policy at the Pew Charitable Trust, and with Ellis Cose, contributing editor and columnist for Newsweek magazine.

We want to hear from listeners across the country as well as from our audience here at Theatre Morgan. What's your family's story as they climb the economic ladder, and which direction? Will you do better than your parents? Will your children do better than you? Please give us a call, 800-989-8255. E-mail us talk@npr.org. You can also check out what other listeners have to say on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Let's go the phones and Peter(ph) is with us. Peter calling from Cleveland.

PETER (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi. You're on the air, Peter. Go ahead, please.

PETER: I'm a white physician and my parents helped put me through college a little bit. They didn't have a lot of money but they did help put me through college a little bit. And I got help from my parents and going to medical school. And I heard that figure - somebody there could verify it, I would appreciate it, but it's only part of the question so I'm going to go on. The figure is that the average wealth of a middle-class black family is about one - is about 10 percent of the average wealth of the white middle-income family.

CONAN: John Morton, does he have that statistics right?

PETER: They have savings and retirement and things like that to lean on.

CONAN: Ellis Cose, I'm sorry.

Mr. COSE: According to "Black Wealth, White Wealth," which was a publication that came out about four or five years ago, the average black family has 8 percent of the wealth of the average white family.

PETER: Well, I like to comment on that and say that it strikes me that in order for a family to take economic - get economic takeoff like a nation, it has to have a certain amount of accumulated capital. And it seems to me that black people haven't had a chance to really develop that kind of capital. And it's one reason why we should consider reparations down the road that white people should consider reparations as a justifiable thing. Because I don't see how black families can continue to have generation after generation go without the families being able to provide help to the kids especially as the standard living gets higher and higher and the price of college gets higher and higher and out of sight.

CONAN: Oh, reparations is another topic for another show. But…

PETER: It's another topic, but (unintelligible)…

Mr. COSE: That's actually - actually there's been some polling data on that. And the last poll that I recall looking at had 96 percent of white people were against reparations for African-Americans for slavery. So that's - it could be some indication on what of support is for that.

CONAN: You're political. But John Morton, getting back to Peter's point about wealth and accumulated capital and how that can help project a family economically.

Mr. MORTON: Right. I mean, there's no doubt that the figures that Ellis cites, I have here in front of me as well, about 8 to 10 percent of the wealth at similar income levels. So these are a white person, a black person making the same amount of money, what's in their accumulated wealth accounts. Whether it's housing or bank accounts, et cetera. There's almost a 10 to one difference. And lots of, I think, historical reasons why that might be. Lots of perhaps cultural reasons with respect to participation in 401(k) plans. There's a lot of good literature about differential rates of participation in employer-sponsored 401(k) plans.

But I think the underlying message here is that from a public policy perspective, if you think that accumulated wealth, as the caller certainly did, is important to ensuring that you're able to transition, transfer some economic status onto your children, then public policies that promote wealth accumulation for folks who don't have it would be an important part of the public policy discussion.

And, again, that's a piece of the public policy debate that's just beginning to kick off now.

Mr. COSE: And clearly, it's important. I mean, because if you have wealth, it makes it easier to support your child's education. It makes it easier to help with the mortgage. It makes it easier to help with a bridge loan, when someone is having a hard time.

CONAN: Cover their health care.

Mr. COSE: So clearly, that's an important part of the mobility. But I think something else is radically changed as well since the 1960s. And the question earlier, says she had a son, I think, is particularly when you talk about young black men these days. What has happened is prison. What has happened is incarceration. You go back to the '60s, you have one-sixth of prison population that you have now. And you go back to the composition of that prison population, it's a little bit over one-third black. Now, you have over two million people in state and federal prisons in any given day. And nearly half of them are black. The majority of them are people of color.

That has changed life odds for them and cover this entire generation, and certainly for this entire generation of young black people in certain communities many of which - you have communities where most of the people who are young and who are male have some acquaintance with incarceration. And what that does, obviously, is it makes it a lot harder to be employable. It makes it a lot harder to be viable in the society, and it makes it a lot harder to buy into this American dream.

And when we reference 1968 as the starting point, 1968 was the - in some ways, the high level of the civil rights movement; It was when King was assassinated, when Kennedy was assassinated. It was when cities were burning. If there is one movement that needs to take place now, in my opinion, is a movement to deal with this prison situation because I think in the same way that blatant discrimination was hurting people now, this incarceration of so many people is destroying communities at this point.

CONAN: Let's go to the microphone to my right.

Ms. ANITA BOWEN(ph): Hi. Yes, my name is Anita Bowen. And I was just wondering, what do you think drives people to do better than their parents even those with parents who are financially more successful than they are now?

CONAN: What do you think, Ellis Cose?

Mr. COSE: Well, I think, there's a psychology called learned optimism, which is of the new branch of psychology which talks about the ability you have faith in the future. And I think there's a lot of - that's lot of it and some of it seems to be what people would just come with. Some of us rooted in all kinds of things that contribute to faith. And I think one of the - you were talking about Barack Obama and his vision of America earlier and why it's exciting people so much. I think why it's exciting people so much - one of the reasons is that he is talking about a better future. He's talking about hope. That's something that people love to buy into. That's something that people really want to buy into.

So it's not, to me, strange at all to think that most people really want to do better than their parents and many of them do. I think what's happened is that it's become harder for a lot of people to believe that when confronted with the reality that they're facing.

CONAN: John Morton?

Mr. MORTON: If I could just jump in and say that - I mean, the public polling around this question is very, very convincing and very disappointing. You know, in exit polls after the 2006 elections, fewer than one-third of people who are polled believed that, or said they believed, that the next generation would be as well-off as they are.

So I think the public mood here in terms of these generational improvements is really shifting. And the question is whether that's based upon a short term, you know, housing crash or longer term issues.

CONAN: Let's go to a caller and this is Calvin(ph). Calvin, with us from Boise, Idaho.

CALVIN (Caller): Yes. I strongly disagree with many of the comments that I'm hearing. I think the true story of the success of an emerging black middle class is not being told. Most of the children of the parents of my generation are doing extraordinarily well now. Their parents were in education or working for the government, whereas today, they are working for some of the major corporations, they're leading divisions of even the major corporations themselves. So there just continues to be a myth perpetuated by white people and many black people that blacks are not doing better. And I can assure you that they're doing much, much, much better than the people from my generation.

CONAN: John Morton, do you want to address Calvin's point?

Mr. MORTON: Absolutely. It's a very good point. I'm sure Ellis may have something to say on this as well. This data do not suggest that there is not a strong robust and even growing middle class. That is a storyline that is entirely consistent with what we find here.

What we find, however, is that the families that rose to middle - African-American families that rose to middle-income status back in the '60s were, for one reason or another, unable to pass along that middle income - many of them, 45 percent of them were unable to pass along that middle-income status to their children.

It says nothing about whether or not there is, in fact, a growing middle class today, which I think most folks would agree there is. But it does suggest that there's a large portion of families who got to a certain status back in the '60s and then for reasons whether they were family structure reasons, asset accumulation or failure to asset - accumulate assets or other reasons were unable to pass that advantage onto their children.

CONAN: Ellis Cose, it's been noted on and commented on, the study that maybe those African-Americans who reach the middle class in 1968 were such stars because it was so difficult in those days that may be it's not such a surprise that their kids cannot surpass them.

Mr. COSE: Well, I don't think that's the reason. I mean, I think there were certainly a lot of exceptional people back then. There are exceptional people in every generation. I think it would be a disservice to this generation to suggest that there are not as many or more exceptional people who are young now as there were back in 1968.

I think - but I do think that it's harder in many ways to move from one class to the other. I mean, the caller can - we can certainly debate statistics. But if you look at the economic statistics, what seems to be the case is that there was a black middle class that was growing roughly from 1940s to 1990s, and then some stagnation had set in, and it does not - that has not really gone appreciably now, which is not to say they aren't a lot of very successful black people. Obviously, there are. Which isn't to say that there are not even black millionaires and a couple of black billionaires. Obviously, there are.

But I don't think - I think the two things are happening at the same time. But we're also seeing a country where it used to be if you didn't have a college education, you have a pretty good shot at making a good living. Now, you don't really have a pretty good shot at making a good living. You have - it's going to be much harder. And we're also seeing a country where there is a greater gap between those who have and those who don't have and that's playing out in every community.

In New York, where I live the last census shows that the top fifth of the population makes 52 times as much on income as the lower fifth of the population. That's up from 32 times, 10 years ago and up from 20-something times - went from 22 times 10 years before that. So the fact of the matter is we are seeing, you know, both the upper quintile is doing much better and even if you go to the top 1 percent, top 2 percent, they are really doing well. Whereas those people who are not - unable to get up into that stratosphere are not doing nearly as well.

CONAN: Let's read this comment we got from Rudolph(ph). An e-mail from Rudolph in Kansas City. To me, this issue of second-generation blacks not doing as well as their parents is one that we as black Americans have to address ourselves. Young people are doing all sorts of things to prevent them from doing as well like dropping out of school too early, having babies too young, getting involved in criminal activity, and not following the good advise of their elders.

The bible is clear on this. Proverbs 1:8 says, listen my son to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching. The old-school stuff has not changed. Just in that regard, John Morton, I was interested to see among your findings that an increasing percentage of African-Americans - nobody believes that racism has vanished but, say, it's more of an individual's responsibility than a result of racism.

Mr. MORTON: Right. These were findings that were put up by the Pew Research Center, one of our affiliated organizations with Pew. And that was indeed the finding, that they're - I think, there's been a - and Ellis can I'm sure reports on this as well, but more of a turn toward individual responsibility and looking for individual responsibility to be part of the solution. It wasn't part of our studies but it certainly received a lot of coverage.

CONAN: John Morton is managing director of economic policy at the Pew Charitable Trusts. And also with us here on the stage at Morgan State University, Ellis Cose, a contributing editor and columnist for Newsweek magazine, author of "Rage of a Privileged Class."

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get another question from here in the audience.

Ms. TYESE MEADOWS(ph) (Student): My name is Tyese Meadows and I'm a junior here at Morgan State University. I am part of the middle class so - or my mother was - so what I say is that, it's an obligation for the parents to instill in their children the confidence to go out for opportunities, to put them ahead of their parents. It's the parents' obligation to instill in their child that they must do better then their parents have done. And I believe that when - if I become a parent later on in my life, I will want my children to do better than me. I will want them to have chances and opportunities that I never had.

So I want to ask you. Do you believe that the parents of the African-American middle class are at a settling point that when they've reached, let's just say, $50,000 a year, that they're like, okay, I've made it, I can support myself to live so this is where I'm going to stay.

CONAN: And just before you leave, though, it sounds like your parents inculcated those values in you.

Ms. MEADOWS: Yes. I live with my - I'm adopted, but I live with a single mother in Delaware and she has stilled all the confidence in me to go out for every opportunity of networking. And my only drive right now is just to take care of her as much as she's taken care of me to the fullest of my potential.

CONAN: Well, thank you for that.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: Ellis Cose, I wonder if you wanted to respond to that.

Mr. COSE: Yeah, I mean, certainly people obviously differ. But I don't get a sense of huge complacency among the black middle class. I don't get a sense among people I know and people I've (unintelligible) in and I've talked to, folks saying, yeah, I have made it up to whatever you want - the number of at and I'm just going to kick back because now, I'm fine. What I get is this sense of concern with everything rising in pricing, price including college education. People are worried that they're going to be - how they going to be able to provide for their children to go the college. People are worried about whether they're going to be to hold on to their job in this sort of fragile economy.

So, no, I don't think there's complacency. But - and I also say that I agree with the young woman. I mean, I agree that people have an obligation to make the most of opportunities, and I think we have an obligation as individuals to seek opportunities. But I also think society has an obligation to provide opportunities. And I think both things are true and we tend to get caught up in these arguments of is it personal responsibility, is it societal responsibility. I think that's a false dichotomy. I mean, it's both. And I know that - and I love Bill Cosby, I know he got a whole lot of attention, you know, for telling young people to clean up their acts and start focusing on education and talking good English and not buying fancy shoes…

CONAN: And take responsibility for themselves. Yeah.

Mr. COSE: …and taking responsibility for themselves. And that's not a controversial message. Most black people would agree with that. It's what's beyond that needs to happen.

CONAN: Let's get one last comment from here in the audience at Morgan State.

Mr. ESA COLEMAN(ph) (Student): Yes. My name's Esa Coleman and I'm a speech communication major here at Morgan State University. I heard the gentleman, Mr. Morton, said that there's an equal shot to the top. Well, I don't believe that there's an equal shot to the top for the lower class. And when you say the lower class, you're talking about the people that live in the ghettos where you suffocate and there's really no room to improve in the workforce even in this area here. I'm not from this area, but I noticed in this area, in this community, the businesses or the workforce is slump to say.

You have McDonald's and maybe a chicken place, but as you go forward then to the white neighborhoods, there's better restaurants and better job opportunities and when you speak about the prison population and black millionaires, either which way you want to discuss it poverty, anything, you have to talk about slavery. We are disadvantaged from the beginning and the back - in the ghettos and in the slums, there are a lot of police that take advantage of people who are ignorant to the laws. And then they are put into jail in the prison population, so people don't even get to reach that ladder. So it's never equal for the lower class. Also…

CONAN: I don't mean to cut you up but I wanted to give John Morton an opportunity to…

Mr. COLEMAN: Sure.

CONAN: …reply. We're almost out of time in this segment. And John Morton?

Mr. MORTON: Yeah. Esa, thank you for your comment. I mean, I - let me be very clear. I did not imply that there was equal opportunity. What I implied was that the American dream is founded on the idea that there should be equality of opportunity not necessarily an equality of results, but equality of opportunity. I am a hundred percent in agreement with you. What we see today and the figures that we have here suggest that there is not equality of opportunity. We talked - we're looking at figures that show about 6 percent of children born to that bottom quintile - actually, the bottom 20 percent actually make it to the top within their lifetime. That's, you know, I think people would dispute whether that's equal opportunity. So I think I have, I'm agreeing with you 100 percent. If I could make one comment, Neal, about education very quickly?

CONAN: Very, very quickly.

Mr. MORTON: Education is the best way to narrow the gap, and we'll have a report coming up in about a month that shows that.

CONAN: All right. I think people here at Morgan State University know that. Our thanks to John Morton of the Pew Charitable Trusts and Ellis Cose of Newsweek magazine. Stay with us. Coming up, the Morgan State Choir.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.