The New York Times published an article in July called “Work and Reward: The Great Disconnect.” *
Basically, the article’s argument is that people tend to assume that harder work will bring them more renumeration, but that, even if ever true in the past, this is becoming less and less true today. This leads to an overall sense of discouragement:
Working hard and getting ahead used to go hand in hand. But that was a long time ago, before decades of stagnating incomes and rising inequality took their toll.
A study published recently by the National Bureau of Economic Research provides an unvarnished look at the damage. The researchers, from the University of Minnesota, the University of Chicago, Princeton University and the Social Security Administration, analyzed the lifetime income histories of millions of workers who started working from 1957 to 1983 and the partial histories of those who entered the work force after that. The research thus measures not only annual ups and downs or average gains and losses, but also longer-term economic mobility.
The findings are a stark reminder that the twin scourges of poor wage growth and income inequality, left unaddressed, will only worsen.
The NYT editorial board offers the following policy recommendations:
Updated overtime pay standards would raise pay broadly in the service sector, as would closing the gender pay gap, through better disclosure of corporate pay scales, anti-discrimination legislation and litigation. Exposure of the differences between the pay of executives and the pay of workers would shed light on some unjustifiable gaps, and call into question tactics like share buybacks that reward shareholders even as workers are shortchanged.
They add, “Reasonable people can disagree on how to approach the problem. But no one can deny that a problem exists and that it demands a response.”
Some questions for the faith and work movement to consider in responding:
- To what degree is the disconnect that we all pretty much admit exists between a lot of people and their jobs a result of faulty conceptions of vocation, and how much is it a result of a general feeling of economic wheel-spinning?
- Is a message that hard work done to the Lord is sufficient in itself enough? If not, what should we add, and what should we do?
- Are we answering faith and work questions as if we’re still in an era when people could count on the proverbial 50 years of employment with the same company and retirement gold watch?
- What do we have to say to the gig economy, the adjunctification of higher education, and the general rise of independent contractors?**
- If these are not the policy solutions you’d recommend, what are some other suggestions?
*(I originally said “recently published,” but unless you are a historian of previous centuries, like me, you may not think last month is recent.) <smile>
**(This factors hugely into healthcare and benefits debates, by the way. I make a good income, and add value to the world and the economy by the things I create here and here, but all of it is as an independent contractor with no benefits. I watch the news daily with some trepidation. Entrepreneurship is throttled, I’d maintain, when entrepreneurs can’t depend on the same safety nets as people in more traditional positions.)