04/27/2012 03:45 pm ET

Poor Americans Increasingly Likely To Stay That Way: Report

It's getting harder for poor Americans to lift themselves up.

Don't believe it? The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston has some pretty compelling evidence.

Between 1996 and 2006, most Americans in the bottom 20 percent of earners never moved up the income ladder, according to a recent research brief by Katharine Bradbury, an economist at the Boston Fed.

Moreover, she writes, it was harder for people to lift themselves up off the bottom in those Clinton-Bush years than it was in the decade from 1976 to 1986, or the decade from 1986 to 1996.

In other words, the data suggests, America's not the land of opportunity anymore. Instead, it's become the land of stasis.

Bradbury's not the first to suggest that the U.S. is increasingly a country where the poor stay poor. Income inequality is at its highest level in decades, and repeated studies have shown that it's harder to achieve economic mobility in America than in other wealthy, industrialized countries.

A record number of Americans are living in poverty, according to the most recent census, and nearly half of households are believed to have almost nothing in the way of meaningful savings. The problems don't look to be abating any time soon; wages have more or less frozen in place for many Americans.

And while the economy has made some modest gains since the official end of the Great Recession, they've largely bypassed the lower and middle classes. Of all the income growth that took place in 2010, the lion's share went to the richest 1 percent of earners, according to Emmanuel Saez at the University of California, Berkeley.