Bernanke Suggests Job Skills to Combat Inequality; Income Gap Continues to Grow Due to Differences in Education

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Byline: Patrice Hill, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The growing income gap is largely the result of disparities in skill and education between the rich and poor, though globalization, trade and the waning influence of labor unions have played a role, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said yesterday.

To remedy inequality, Congress and the Bush administration should enact measures that ensure all Americans receive an equal opportunity to succeed by receiving good education and job skills, while resisting pressure to erect barriers to trade that will prevent Americans from enjoying the overwhelming benefits and higher living standards afforded by global markets, he said.

"Workers with more education are better positioned to adapt to changing demands in the workplace," and such flexibility has been a hallmark of America's economic success, he said. That has enabled overall living standards to grow steadily, even as the gap has widened between earners at the top and bottom of the income scale.

Congressional Democrats have floated a variety of measures to address the income gap, including raising the minimum wage, increasing taxes on the most highly paid executives, making it easier for unions to organize workers, and requiring negotiators to focus on the job and income effects of international trade.

Mr. Bernanke acknowledged that growing income disparities are an important problem for Congress to address, and said many approaches can be considered to ensure everyone receives an equal opportunity to succeed and to provide social safety nets for those whose jobs and incomes are cut off by international competition.

"A bedrock American principle is the idea that all individuals should have the opportunity to succeed on the basis of their own effort, skill and ingenuity," he said. "We also believe that no one should be allowed to slip too far down the economic ladder, especially for reasons beyond his or her control."

But he cautioned against remedies that try to eliminate the disparity altogether. …