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“I Am the Portrait of Downward Mobility”

It used to be a given that each American generation would do better than the last.

Fully 92 percent of the Americans who reached their 30th birthday in 1970 earned more than their parents had earned at the same age, even after adjusting for inflation. But beginning in the 1970s, the economic ladder gradually became harder to climb, and fewer Americans were able to surpass their parents. In the cohort of Americans who turned 30 in 2010, only half earned more than their parents at the same age, according to research by a team of economists led by Raj Chetty, a Harvard professor. The American dream had become a coin flip.

That group of Americans, born in 1980, missed out on the post-World War II economic boom that lifted their elders to prosperity. While the economy grew during their childhoods, the gains were distributed much less evenly, as the federal government backed away from policies aimed at minimizing inequality. The winners won bigger, but more people were left behind. The year this group turned 21, the stock market collapsed and the economy fell into recession. In 2008, there was a bigger recession.

Now they’re turning 40 and life hasn’t gotten any easier. A decade of sluggish growth has ended in an economic collapse already more severe than the last. They have more debt, less predictable employment, and less reliable access to health care.

We don’t yet have similar data on the lives of younger Americans, born since 1980, but they have grown up in the same challenging economic environment. There is little reason to think their chances of outearning their parents are significantly better.

Income is a crude proxy for the things that really matter, of course. Some 40-year-olds say they’re doing better than their parents because they have more freedom to live and love, or more education, or because they were born as citizens of the United States. And many have outstripped their parents financially. But for others, it feels as if America has not kept its promises. And some of them say they’ve been reluctant to have children of their own as a result.

We asked 40-year-old Times readers to share how they are doing compared to their parents. Nearly 500 wrote in. In their own words, here is how 10, drawn from across the country, are doing.

Read entire article at The New York Times