Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

What We Can Do about Income Inequality

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

What We Can Do about Income Inequality

Article excerpt

One of the most head-scratching questions among American economists these days is this: With unprecedented opportunities to expand ones skills, knowledge, and even character, why has inequality in income gone up?

Why arent the many new pathways for self-improvement online education, for example liberating almost all workers?

A new study from the Brookings Institution begins to crack this hard nut. It not only suggests that a decades-long rise in inequality has become permanent for many workers but that the rapid change in technologies is probably the main driver. A lasting underclass of workers simply isnt keeping up with the new types of jobs.

The study is unusual for its hard data. It relied on the tax returns of thousands of male workers between 1987 and 2009. Men were the focus because they accounted for 54 percent of household income compared with 26 percent from women. And todays strong workplace bias toward higher levels of skills has hit men harder than women, in both factory jobs and, increasingly, desk jobs.

The studys results point to the need to motivate people toward broadening their view of their own potential to advance in new careers. A more dynamic marketplace that destroys and creates jobs at a faster clip requires a more dynamic development of individuals in reinventing themselves.

The usual supports for such change family upbringing, government programs, teachers, and mentors can only do so much to reduce barriers, calm fears of insecurity, and open opportunities. Given the pace of change, the burden lies increasingly on individuals themselves to align to new types and styles of work.

A common mistake for many laid-off workers is to simply seek knowledge in a new field. That certainly helps, for a while. But adapting to ever-changing technologies requires a mental agility to see new ideas and detect patterns. …

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