Rich man, poor man: The gap continues to grow

We’ve all heard that saying, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It seems to be particularly true these days.

First comes a report that the gap in employment rates between this country’s highest- and lowest-income families is as high as it has ever been.

For those earning less than $20,000, the jobless rate is 21 percent. For those earning more than $150,000 a year, the jobless rate is 3.2 percent.

Hmmm. And what does this indicate? Certainly, there are more people seeking fewer jobs that don’t pay a lot of money. But Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northern University, may have put it best in determining the significance of this report.

“One part of America is in depression, while another part is in full employment.”

In other words, that 1 percent everyone was talking about a while back is doing well. The 99 percent, not so well.

It’s also worth pointing out that those on the list of the richest folks in America according to Forbes, are richer than ever. In fact, there are so many people with so much money, it’s getting tougher to land on Forbes annual list of the top 400 Richest Americans.

Bill Gates of Microsoft fame continues to hold down the number one spot with a net worth of $72 billion, up from $66 billion, followed by Warren Buffet at $58.5 billion, up from $46 billion.

“Basically, the mega-rich are mega-richer,” said Forbes Senior Editor Kerry Dolan.

The minimum net income to be among this elite group is $1.3 billion. Forbes said 61 billionaires fell short of this exclusive 400. That’s a whole lot of money in the hands of a very select group.

Can anything be done about this widening gap between rich and poor?

Let’s recognize the blue-collar jobs — mining, timber, mills, manufacturing that once paid so well  in this country are few and will get fewer. Construction, an industry that usually leads the way in a strong economy, hasn’t  bounced back to pre-recession levels. What used to be the middle class is being squeezed into scrambling for lower-wage jobs.

Education must be part of the solution.

A graduate with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Hawaii at Manoa will earn around $41,000 a year within five years. After 10 years, UH grads earn $73,000 a year. If you can do it, if you have a plan, a goal, the drive to see it through, then yes, college is worth the investment.

But sitting in a classroom after high school isn’t for everyone. College is also expensive. Long gone are the days you could work your way through four-years of upper education and come out with a degree and no debt.

There are solid fields that don’t require a college degree.

Law enforcement, firefighter, mechanic, electrician, Web designer and truck driver come to mind. The message here is, the more skills you have, the more valuable you are.

But there is no immediate way to bridge the great divide of those with money, and those without.

Even President Obama could only offer this: “We have to make the investments necessary to attract good jobs that pay good wages and offer high standards of living.”

No arguing with that. It’s a question of how to make it happen.

Until then, well, more billionaires probably won’t make the cut to be on Forbes top 400 list. The shame.

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