Income inequality and careers

Determine a job’s economic viability

One of the paramount issues of the 2016 presidential election is emerging in the discussion of income inequality.

There is increasing consensus recognized by Democrats and Republicans alike that economic growth is not as evenly distributed among the working and middle-management classes as it had relatively been prior to the 1980s. Data from a variety of economists, such as Thomas Piketty, Robert Reich, Barry Cynamon and Steven Fazzari, have been publicly presented showing a concentration trend of higher income growth among the very rich and away from the 90 to 95 percent of the rest of us. In fact, the pace of income inequality has actually been picking up in recent years.

Why is this a problem aside from the feeling that it isn’t fair? Well, if the bulk of consumers don’t have as much income to spend, then suppliers of products and services can’t sell as much. Yes, the rich can buy a lot, but they don’t buy as much as the 90 to 95 percent of us do. The result is depressed economic growth and lower incomes for consumers and suppliers. Borrowing and credit may help us hang on to a chosen lifestyle in the short term, but, as we saw in the recent recession, over leveraging can lead to big problems.

It seems that this orientation toward concentrating money and power among a few is historic across all economic systems, including aristocracies, dictatorships, monarchies, oligarchies, communist regimes and, yes, even capitalist countries.

Economic fairness says we should resist this inclination. From a career development perspective, sluggish economic growth across a wide swath of the population means employment suffers and careers stagnate. This is not a sustainable situation.

Positions regarding the issue are being staked by candidates from both parties. I see problems with the arguments receiving attention at this point.

Republicans will have a hard time saying they don’t contribute to the problem with their steady drumbeat of reducing constraints on big capital and encouraging wealth enhancement for the rich.

Democrats will have a difficult time gaining public support if all they can rely on is their standard Robin Hood politics of taking money from the rich and governmentally distributing it to the poor.

This is undoubtedly a complex issue that will require vigorous debate. And it looks like the recently begun presidential election cycle will provide such a discussion.

It’s unlikely that we will ever or should get to a point where certain employment and generous compensation outcomes are guaranteed for all. Therefore, individual career choice necessarily requires one to examine not only their singular interests and strengths, but also to determine the economic viability of their decision.

A career option that may have had an appealing and fruitful past may not be projected to be so in the future. The employment landscape is too susceptible to forces of change at both local and global levels to think that a government or a company can sign up workers for long-term and predictable jobs at a steady living wage.

This prompts me to look for areas where all parties should try to hammer out agreements in response to income inequality and its effect on careers. I recommend reinforcing and boosting opportunities for all middle-class workers. I see three parts (in no rank order) to achieve this.

Part 1 involves electing politicians not afraid to enforce fair tax policies designed to mitigate the hoarding of capital by the few.

Part 2 involves giving a hand up to displaced middle-class workers through higher minimum wage rates and abundant education and training opportunities to better prepare them for success and advancement in a globalized and digitized economy.

Part 3 involves following the notion that to fish successfully one needs to fish where the fish are. Hence, part of the answer to the shrinking middle class needs to be that middle-income workers capture the greatest amount of capital possible by producing goods and performing services that are in high demand with those holding the most money.

An artful combination of free market and government intervention could together level the income playing field and increase incomes for those whose wages have languished for too long.

Bill Ryan, founder of Ryan Career Services LLC, Concord, can be reached at 603-724-2289 or


Categories: Business Advice