America's Top 10 Earners Reveal One Sad Truth About America

Almost a century ago, two writers who dedicated their journalistic prowess to covering Wall Street and business came together to start their own magazine — a periodical that would ultimately reshape the image of the financial industry in American and around the world.  These two men were Walter Drey and Bertie Charles Forbes, and their creation was Forbes magazine. Forbes and Drey envisioned a body of pages that would highlight, honor, and inspire “doers and doings.” Propelling from 1917 into the present, every year we now anxiously await Forbes magazine’s annual list of top earners and deepest pockets in the United States. As we see our wealthiest citizens grow richer while the middle class remains stagnant and poverty increases, we encounter stark evidence that income inequality is growing, and this growth in our financial disparity has a high probability of snowballing into an avalanche of problems for America moving forward. 

One issue that this overall rise in income inequality raises is question of who is suffering the most from this trend. Naturally race comes into play, with blacks having an unemployment rate at twice the rate of whites and with nearly three times as many black people living in poverty as whites. However, these race-related facts fall in line with a trend of growing income inequality that has existed almost seamlessly since the 1960’s. So racial minorities are, actually, not the biggest losers in the income inequality struggle. 

The group with the most at stake is young people. According to CNN, Americans under the age of 35 struggled last year financially. Their incomes fell, on average, while Americans over the age of 35 took home more cash than they did a year ago. In fact, as we look further and further down the age distribution in America the income issues increase. Almost a fourth of all American children live in poverty. So, the wallets belonging to America’s future are shrinking in an alarming way. 

With young people's earning power on a downward slope and child poverty on the rise, the promise of being able to secure a middle-class life is increasingly elusive. Arguably the most important kind of opportunity that we, as a nation, grant to our youth is education. Just among young adults between the ages of 25 and 34,  the median college graduate earns over $12,000 more than the median young person without a degree. Yet among low-income Americans, only 11% earn college degrees. Education is becoming harder to obtain for younger generations of Americans. 

However, the success of some of the tech giants that sit atop Forbes’ Mount Rushmore of the business world show that education opportunities are not the only important piece to creating wealth in this new digital era. There exists a sea of entrepreneurial opportunity among the casual-shirt-wearing, start-up crowd that produced the new breed of billionaires like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google founder Sergey Brin. Yet, we have to ask ourselves whether tech entrepreneurialism is an opportunity that trickles down to kids who do not grow up in Silicon Valley or near a computer-coding center. In other words, are these young success stories merely fools' gold — mirages that are as difficult to obtain as NBA or NFL stardom? 

Whether tech dreams are attainable or not, I believe the only hope for the well being of the next generation is for America to rethink and reshape our views and ideas on wealth.  Thinking back to the inception of Forbes Magazine, we have a good place to start. It is time that we start to value the “doer” and “doings.”  Instead of settling for a financial system where we sit back and watch people grow wealthier from mere capital moves — mergers, acquisitions, investments, etc. — we should focus on finding creative ways to reward a generation of young people who are taking college degrees and using them to work for non-profit organizations, humanitarian efforts, childhood-based education programs, and a number of other admirable areas.  We need to see “the greater good” as our most important “doing” and those who work towards it as our “doers.”