Structural Factors Inhibiting Upward Economic Mobility

The United States (US) has a long history of promoting and enhancing structural factors which prevent individuals from diverse backgrounds from rising the socioeconomic ladder. Socioeconomic mobility defines the concept of how individuals move from one social or economic class to another. This positional shift is influenced by job changes, tax alternations, crime and punishment, racially discriminatory practices, and neighborhood dynamics, including gentrification. One peculiar realization is the distinct way in which the limit to upward mobility is more pronounced among minority groups such as African Americans and other people of color (Schwarz, 2010). The existence of de-jure racial hierarchies which promote and sustain housing segregation and other space restriction norms also perpetually hinder access to resources, improving one’s socioeconomic status. This paper discusses the structural factors which keep most Americans in a perpetual cycle of poverty.

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American poverty has most often been thought to stem from individual inadequacies; however, failings at the political and economic levels are mainly to blame. In the past, poverty was tied to poor personal decisions, laziness, failure to acquire useful skills and education, and their entrenched lack of motivation (Rank, 2011). In sharp contrast to this belief, the fundamental challenge lies in the limited access to viable economic opportunities for all Americans. Simultaneously, such individual shortcomings as insufficient education or skillset role in determining one’s competitiveness to securing decent chances do not justify the shortage of those opportunities. For instance, the United States continues to produce more low paying, part-time jobs without benefits to the vast pool of labor seeking high-income opportunities (Ali, 2014). In addition to their lack of health insurance and permanency, these jobs are not enough for the competing American workers; hence, most families cannot improve their socioeconomic welfare.

Income Inequality

Further, Americans’ limited upward mobility is attributable to the pervasive income inequality characterized by the wide gap between extreme prosperity and destitution. Findings continue to show the stark contrast between a CEO’s average income and that of a regular worker. Besides, wealth accumulation patterns are skewed, with the top one percent owning more than 42 percent of the nation’s entire financial property (Wilkinson, 2011). Despite these differences in wealth and wages, the social policies currently only cater to the needs of the affluent but are disguised as helping all Americans through trickle-down economics. Such factors as the type of occupation and what industry one works in determine wage differences. Most people providing unskilled labor only experience a significant increase in salaries by switching fields. Additionally, the economic sector within which one works, including manufacturing and logistics, influences their chance of improving their paychecks, which determines their upward mobility.


Millions of families throughout the United States face evictions yearly, a trend which hurts their capacity to improve their socioeconomic status. The affordable housing crisis mainly affects low-income households who devote a large part of their earnings to housing costs. Unlike in the 1980s, when housing was the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s top plan, it has been sidelined in recent decades (Rice, 2015). Consequently, the housing dynamics have deeply created and deepened poverty in the US. The extreme rent burden implies a shrinkage of money available for food, medication, school supplies, and other necessities. Moreover, the affordable housing shortage in urban areas causes residential instability among low-income families, hindering their capacity to invest in their homes and community emotionally. The burdensome nature of evictions on impoverished families obstructs their path to socioeconomic prosperity.


Health also plays a vital role in one’s economic status, influencing both intragenerational and intergenerational mobility. There are numerous ways through which wellbeing could affect wealth and earnings. The presence of illness can directly hinder labor market attachment or limit job choice. Additionally, the disease can indirectly impact one’s economic status primarily if it occurs in childhood and alters cognition and learning, as seen among persons living with disabilities. Health shocks affect intragenerational mobility by restricting one from work besides the typically exorbitant medical expenses, which depletes one’s savings (Fernholz, 2014). Therefore, health remains a critical determinant of upward economic mobility by influencing one’s access to jobs and their capacity to perform the required tasks.

Financial Systems

Additionally, monetary systems prolong inequality and deepen the financial insecurity of people of diverse backgrounds, limiting the chance to improve their lives economically. Access to home mortgages, bank accounts, business loans, and reliable banking advice is necessary to build lasting financial security. Nonetheless, most Americans do not hold a bank account and instead use costly alternative monetary services, including check cashing outlets. Moreover, most families rely on such high-priced lending products as payday loans, subprime mortgages, and auto title credits (Massey & Denton, 1993). The majority of individuals who resort to these unfair financial practices because of their low credit scores plus poor credit history cannot afford them conventional credit. The low incomes without emergency savings compel individuals to turn to predatory lenders for financial cover. These banking norms and practices keep impoverished persons in a loop of perpetual reliance on loans, thus inhibiting their upward mobility.

Justice System

The American justice system is also responsible for socioeconomically stagnating low-income communities. The criminal justice practice and policy have intensified the disparate incarceration of persons of color, especially Black cisgender men (Massey & Denton, 1993). Consequently, several working-age men are excluded from the labor force. Besides, being ex-offenders exposes them to countless employment barriers, further inhibiting their ability to establish stable, prosperous lives. Moreover, local governments increasingly use fines and fees to raise revenue. In most cases, these norms are unequally imposed on people of color (Massey & Denton, 1993). As such, minor offenders escalate into overwhelming burdens of jail, insurmountable debt, and deprivation.

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Education Disparities

Disparities in education are another common hindrance to financial security, which can propel one into a higher socioeconomic level. High-quality education cutting across from early childhood to college is a known foundation for well-compensating career and financial success. Nevertheless, critical gaps along the learning continuum inhibit some Americans’ ability, especially, lower income students, mostly those of color, to attain financial security in adulthood (Massey & Denton, 1993). The students from poor backgrounds are less likely to attend highly performing preschools increasing their chances of starting late and performing poorly at school. Moreover, the persistent residential segregation limits their choice of schools since most high-quality schools only exist in predominantly white, middle-class neighborhoods (Ali, 2015). The poor academic preparation affects the individuals’ future job prospects and thus lasting financial security, enabling one upward economic mobility.


The issue of color in the United States is an essential structural factor which influences economic mobility upward. There are racially discriminatory practices which keep colored populations marginalized, with limited access to significant economic opportunities. The race gaps in upward mobility persist throughout the earnings distribution. Most of these differences in movements and economic levels result from a conglomeration of such interrelated factors as poverty, poor education, housing segregation, and other racially biasing norms. Limited access to quality education as defined by residential area dims future financial prospects of mostly Black and Latinx individuals (Taylor, 2015). As a result, many people resort to illegal activities such as trade-in hard drugs to earn a living. In this area, they clash with the criminal justice system, which is further bent towards unequally targeting colored individuals, committing to excessive debts through fines and jail. Consequently, their chances of improving their socioeconomic status become significantly dismal.


Similarly, the United States’ neighborhood dynamics such as gentrification, redlining, and ghettoization are important structural determinants of upward mobility. Gentrification generally describes the situation in which mostly well off, educated, whites move into region inhabited by low-income, mainly Black population, causing rise in property values, subsequently driving out the poor natives (Kiviat, 2008). However, gentrification has been found to be more complicated than just pushing impoverished natives out of their homes. In real sense, the white yuppies gentrifying into an area cause social integration despite the pervasive segregation which characterize American cities. However, gentrification still remains a harmful practice for those whose incomes have not recorded significant increase to match the gentrifiers’ earnings. Such individuals will have difficulties rising the socioeconomic ladder.


Ghettoization is another neighborhood dynamic which impacts one’s upward mobility. Before the Civil War, most American cities had both Blacks and whites living together, despite their distinct social hierarchies. At the advent of the 20th century, two developments lead to the rapid effacement of interracial contact: America’s industrialization and Black’s concomitant movement from farms into cities. The wave of communal violence which broke out in the Northern cities between 1900 to 1920 created the initial impetus for the formation of downtowns (Massey & Denton, 1993). This ghettoization shows the myriad ways in which such social life aspects as schools, government districts, and other institutions are organized by geography. For instance, because residential neighborhoods typically contain and partially fund public schools, the quality of educational opportunities ties to their place of residence. Moreover, those living in the segregated ghettoes wield less political influence than their more economically diverse white counterparts. Additionally, ghettoization denies the downtown dwellers a chance for steady employment and quality public amenities.


Lastly, the practice of redlining, which was widespread in the mid-20th century, is a neighborhood dynamic which perpetually kept Black people out of significant economic opportunities. Redlining describes how regions with substantial Black populations were outlined in red ink on maps to warn mortgage lenders. Thus, Blacks were effectively isolated in areas which experience lower levels of investment compared to their white counterparts. In addition to the racially restrictive housing statutes, which prevented Blacks from buying homes in predominantly white areas, redlining barred generations of households from gaining equity in homeownership (Massey & Denton, 1993). The lost chances at residential housing possession, which resulted from these unjust practices, prevented these families from wealth accumulation, an opportunity which would have enabled their rise through the socioeconomic ladder.


To conclude, numerous structural factors can inhibit one’s upward social mobility. They include such neighborhood dynamics as ghettoization, gentrification, redlining, education disparities, health status, evictions, and pervasive poverty. These factors have the effect of inhibiting one’s upward movement across the socioeconomic spectrum by perpetually keeping them in an endless loop of need and endless inability to maneuver substantial progress. The issue of race proves the most pivotal structural determinant of upward mobility as most other factors revolve around it. As such the United states’ marginalized groups, including Black and Latinx populations are the ones whose upward economic mobility is most inhibited.


Ali, S. (2014). I gentrify bed-stuy. American Sociological Association, 13(1), 84. Web.

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Ali, S. (2015). Fast gentrifying neighborhoods, slow gentrifying schools. Infinite Mile Detroit. Web.

Fernholz, T. (2014). Gentrification isn’t bad for the poor. Quartz. Web.

Kiviat, B. (2008). Gentrification: Not ousting the poor? TIME. Web.

Massey, D., & Denton, N. A. (1993). American apartheid: Segregation and the making of the underclass. Harvard University Press.

Rank, M. R. (2011). Rethinking American poverty. Contexts, 10(2), 16-21. Web.

Rice, A. (2015). The red hot rubble of East New Yolk. New Yolk Magazine. Web.

Schwarz, B. (2010). Gentrifications and its discontents, Manhattan never was what we think it was. The Atlantic. Web.

Taylor, K. (2015). Race and class collide in a plan for two Brooklyn Schools. The New York Times. Web.

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Wilkinson, R. (2011). How economic inequality harms societies [Video]. TED. Web.

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