WASHINGTON (Reuters) - America may still think of itself as the land of opportunity, but the chances of living a rags-to-riches life are a lot lower than elsewhere in the world, according to a new study published on Wednesday.
The likelihood that a child born into a poor family will make it into the top five percent is just one percent, according to "Understanding Mobility in America," a study by economist Tom Hertz from American University.
By contrast, a child born rich had a 22 percent chance of being rich as an adult, he said.
"In other words, the chances of getting rich are about 20 times higher if you are born rich than if you are born in a low-income family," he told an audience at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think-tank sponsoring the work.
He also found the United States had one of the lowest levels of inter-generational mobility in the wealthy world, on a par with Britain but way behind most of Europe.
"Consider a rich and poor family in the United States and a similar pair of families in Denmark, and ask how much of the difference in the parents' incomes would be transmitted, on average, to their grandchildren," Hertz said.
"In the United States this would be 22 percent; in Denmark it would be two percent," he said.
The research was based on a panel of over 4,000 children, whose parents' income were observed in 1968, and whose income as adults was reviewed again in 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1999.
The survey did not include immigrants, who were not captured in the original data pool. Millions of immigrants work in the U.S, many illegally, earnings much higher salaries than they could get back home.
It appears that the effort to permanently get rid of the estate tax is being funded by 18 of the wealthiest families in America in an effort to save themselves $71.6 billion. These families include the founders of Wal-Mart, Gallo wineries, Nordstrom's, Campbell Soup Co., Mars candy company, and Cox media chain.