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What is the Center on Opportunity and Social Mobility?

AEI’s Center on Opportunity and Social Mobility (COSM) conducts rigorous research and develops evidence-based policies aimed at expanding opportunity in America by reducing entrenched poverty, increasing upward mobility, and rebuilding social capital.



Over the past several decades, a growing economy fueled by free enterprise has lifted living standards in the United States. Economic growth, together with a safety net that has expanded and become better at encouraging independence, has reduced poverty by more than 90% over the past 60 years.

But upward
mobility lags

But, even as incomes have risen, children who grow up at the bottom of the economic ladder are no less likely than in the past to remain at the bottom as adults. Men in their early thirties today who started out in the bottom fourth of the income distribution as adolescents are no more likely to have moved up than were men a generation earlier. Racial disparities in intergenerational mobility also persist. For 20% of black adults, they themselves, their mothers, and their grandmothers were all in the bottom fifth of the income distribution; the same is true for only 1% of white adults.

20% VS. 1% Black Americans vs. white Americans in the bottom fifth for three generations

And social life
has withered

Simultaneously, social poverty has dramatically worsened. Social capital – the strength of our relationships and broader associational life – has deteriorated over the past 50 years. Marriage has declined and divorce has grown more common. Fewer adults are having children and those who do are increasingly single parents. Men have become more disconnected from work, while crime and incarceration have increased. Church membership, voting, and trust in institutions have all declined.

COSM's mission

COSM informs and develops an agenda that tackles opportunity gaps facing disadvantaged children and families, increases upward mobility, and renews associational life. In doing so, COSM is attentive to trade-offs, unintended consequences, the strengths of markets, and the importance of work and family. COSM champions personal responsibility and agency while acknowledging external barriers to achievement.