Tuesday, September 9, 2014

An economy that works together, stays together

Source: Steve Breen / Creators Syndicate
The US economy is experiencing its slowest recovery in 70 years. We just can’t seem to give the economy the kick-start it needs. Why? Because we are held back by inequality. Only by tackling inequality head-on can we secure the sustained economic recovery that we are looking for.

Inequality sends a signal about the economy’s potential to grow today. Income among the poorest can be stagnant if people have given up looking for a job because opportunities are so scarce. The recent fall in US unemployment masks record falls in the participation rate, the number of people actually looking for a job. Fewer people in the labour force leads to lower per head growth rates and lower social cohesion. We are wasting our best resource – people. 

Source: Chan Lowe / Tribute Content Agency
Inequality also matters for the economy’s growth potential tomorrow. Richer families can afford to spend more time with their children, investing in their learning and development. Poorer families, who are more likely to work longer hours in minimum wage jobs, simply don’t have the time. But if you think that talent is randomly distributed, then this means that many children's potential will be left untapped. These young people are also more likely to drop out of high school or college, either because of cost or because they simply don't believe that people like them can succeed. This impacts on their ability to secure a job and makes it more likely that they will also fall on hard times.  

What can be done? If inequality is defined as a gap, then let’s build bridges that enable people to close this divide. Raising the minimum wage would enable everyone to earn a basic income. On-the-job training would improve career progression and lifetime income for those in work, and back-to-work training would improve job prospects for those out of work. A more progressive tax and social security system would provide much-needed resources to low-income families to invest in themselves. 

None of these policies constitute a hand-out. Raising the wage, for example, would actually increase tax receipts and reduce welfare expenditure as fewer people require income support. All of these policies can help children as much as adults. For example, women who joined the workforce following welfare reform in the UK spent the extra income earned on books and activities for their children. And each one would increase the productive potential of the economy. An economy that can produce more is likely to grow.  

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