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The American Dream promises that with hard work and determination, anyone has an opportunity for upward mobility. Does everyone truly have an equal chance of climbing the ladder to success, or are some people stuck at the bottom?

In this lesson, students will analyze income distributions of the three most populous racial/ethnic groups in America to evaluate whether or not these distributions have become more equitable over time. Using data from the 2013 US Census, students compare percentages of total income earned by different subgroups of the working population and decide whether or not the “American Dream” is equally achievable by all Americans.

Students will

  • Use histogram of income data to calculate median annual income values by racial/ethnic group
  • Use one-variable statistics to compare income distributions for different ethnic groups in 1998 and 2013, and discuss whether these distributions have become more equitable over time
  • For a given population subgroup, e.g. Hispanic women, use a two-way frequency table to write and analyze conditional probabilities as a means of comparing the distribution of wealth

Before you begin

Students should be able to calculate one-variable statistics of a set of data (including median, mode, etc.) presented in various forms, particularly with histograms. Students are also expected to be comfortable manipulating between decimals and percentages, as well as calculating probabilities from a two-way table.

Common Core Standards

Content Standards
Mathematical Practices


Carmen DeNavas Walt, Kirby Posey, Hyon Shin, Steve Harvey, Barack Obama