What Does It Mean When Academics Give Up On
Income Inequality Assumptions?

Harvard1An article in yesterday’s New York Times Business section may say it all when it comes to trying to blame Income Inequality for all the ills in the country.

Some smart people would like us to believe that there is a solid causal relationship between income inequality and things like life expectancy and the odds of a poor child climbing out poverty in the future.

But Christopher S. Jencks, a professor of social policy at Harvard, has abandoned his 10-year-old project of writing a book about the consequences of income inequality?

Why would Mr. Jencks do such a thing?

Simply because the hard facts and statistics coming out of Mr. Jencks extensive research  just were not proving out basic assumptions of how income inequality was the definite reason for negative effects on the nation’s health, opportunity, and crime.

income-inequality-99-prtest-occupy-wall-street1When this accomplished researcher dug deeper he kept finding that other factors may really be acting on those people traditionally at the wrong end of the income inequality spectrum.

Basically all the data and research just did not backup the basic assumptions…  One problem with these analyses is that they are based on correlations between levels of inequality and variables like life expectancy or the odds of poor children climbing the income ladder. But such correlations can’t prove inequality causes social ills. They can’t disentangle inequality from the myriad things pushing American society this way and that.

Example… Life expectancy in the USA probably lags other developed countries because we don’t have universal government provided healthcare. Until ObamaCare totally clicks in if you are not working at a higher end job you probably don’t have adequate healthcare insurance. And judging from the trouble HealthCare.gove is having with signing people up for the program this problme may go on for many years.

Another example…  People in Scandinavia, a country with less income inequality, may have higher upward mobility than the United States because governments in Sweden, Denmark and other Scandinavian countries invest a lot in early childhood education and the United States does not.

Both of these examples could be related to income inequality but there are obviously other factors at play.

Lane Kenworthy a sociologist at the University of Arizona has been researching income inequalities effects and has also been forced to change his tune because he could not find solid correlations.

Can money alone be the solution?

Can money alone be the solution?

To try to avoid misleading correlations and find a better way to isolate income inequality’s impact, Mr. Kenworthy studied its evolution over time, comparing how changes in income concentration across the world’s industrialized nations related to changes in a whole set of social and economic outcomes, from growth and employment to health and educational attainment.

What do you think he found?

He came up mostly empty-handed… “My tests suggest it seems to be a small player in the overall story,” Mr Kenworthy said.

Some people might like a simple solutions to the woes that visit upon those that feel they are victims of income inequality. But the answer is not just to redistribute cash from those at the upper end of the spectrum to those at the lower end. Money alone will not solve these problems.

Another Lottery Winner Turned Ultimate Loser.

Another Lottery Winner Turned Ultimate Loser.

If money was the solution then every single person who has won the lottery would be living wonderful happy lives. But as this article and many others detail, that just is not the case. Divorce, family estrangement, Suicide, murder, kidnapping, poor health, drugs, and alcohol shortened many lottery winners lives. More money may have actually helped these winners lives unravel because as these two income inequality researchers  have found… There are other things influencing peoples lives beside money.

What do you think? Can simply putting more money in the hands of people solve the Income Inequality puzzle?

The Post College Income Inequality Problem… Is it the Economy, the College, or the Student?


But… I had an interesting conversation with a University career office today and I have to say I feel enlightened. Now this is by no means an intensive study so let’s just call it a data point. An interesting data point.

First of all… this college career office was at a leading second tier private University. Not Harvard or Stanford but about the same tuition cost and just a bit lower on the national rankings.

I was curious why even graduates of this fine University were not finding the employment they dreamed of when they started their college adventure four short years ago.


Did the career center offer workshops and seminars on finding jobs?  YES!

Did the career center offer one-on-one career counselling? YES!

Does the career center offer a database of job opportunities? YES!

Did the career center offer on campus interviewing? YES!

Did the career center blame the weak economy? NO!

The what was missing? Why are so many students not finding jobs?

Here’s what I learned…

HiremeThe university offers many resources for students to find summer internships and post-graduation full time jobs. They have a team of people on staff to help educate people on how to search for, interview for, and get the best jobs possible. They maintain huge databases with opportunities and extensive research on hiring companies. University students and graduates can access a huge database of alumni. Many who probably work at just the company the student would like to work for.

But… (and here is the big revelation for me) With all these resources far too many students do not put in the maximum effort required to land their dream job.

MortarBoarddollarsJob finding workshops and seminars are sparsely attended. Online Opportunity databases gather dust. Career counselors are not busy. Alumni eager to help are not contacted. Do I need to continue?

The complaint from this career center is that students and prospective graduates do not seem to be taking advantage of the vast resources offered.

So if you have a student who is nearing college graduation or looking for a pre-graduation summer internship you may want to ask a few questions:

1) How many programs offered by your university’s career office have you attended?
2) How many hours a week do you spend searching the career office opportunity database?
3) Do you directly contact prospective employers or just impersonally heave resumes at them over the internet?
4) Have you used your networks like past graduates and professional organizations to seek job opportunities?
5) Do you have a dream company you would like to work for and what have you done to contact that company?

Careers signIn short…  Do you realize that finding the job is hard work? And… Most amazingly that the good jobs don’t necessarily go to the best qualified people they go to the person who works the hardest to get the job.

And do questions like these seem relevant for all job seekers looking for a better job to get to the next rung up the career ladder? Are people willing to do more than the minimum to ge the job they want?