The Public Interest

Still the land of opportunity?

Isabel V. Sawhill

Spring 1999

AMERICA is known as “the land of opportunity,” But whether it deserves this reputation has received too little attention. Instead, we seem mesmerized by data on the distribution of incomes which show that incomes are less evenly distributed than they were 20 or 30 years ago. In 1973, the richest 5 percent of all families had 11 times as much income as the poorest one-fifth. By 1996, they had almost 20 times as much. But it is not only the distribution of income that should concern us. It is also the system that produces that distribution.

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