Saturday, September 14, 2013

The meritocracy lie

One of the greatest lies that has ever been sold, especially in America, is that everyone gets what they deserve.  People have worked hard to try and explain why America is a meritocracy.  The explanation is there so that people who struggle can be explained away.  We try and distance ourselves from others who struggle especially if you're successful.  But you have to be able to explain why one person is successful and another is not.  So how do we do this?  Oh, they just didn't want it enough.  Or whatever you want to say along those lines.  So here's a few statistics about why this is a lie.


  • According to the San Francisco Federal Reserve, those who lost their job during the recession will make 11% less over the next 25 years compared to those who retained their jobs.  So, let's assume your job had to lay people off, because the company just wasn't as well run as another company, do you deserve making 11% less over the next 25 years?  
  • During the Great Recession, lower wage jobs grew by 3.2%, mid-wage occupations grew by 1.2%, and higher wage occupations grew by 1.2%.  Again, this is of no fault of your own but the jobs that are out there are for the most part lower wage jobs.  Is it because you didn't want it more?
  • Clearly, it's your fault that cities are unable to sustain high-wage job growth once you lose your job.  That's why you see jobs have to be driven by the creation of lower wage jobs.  It must be your fault. 
  • Harvard only accepts 6% of its applicants.  Let's be clear.  The best of the best apply to Harvard.  They literally throw away 94% of the applications while only allowing 6% in.  What's the difference?  I have no idea.
  • Out of the Forbes 400 richest Americans, none of them started from a poor background.  22% were born into a situation where they were comfortable and may have received start-up capital from a family member.  Think Mark Zuckerberg.  11.5% inherited a medium size company of $1 million or more and received significant start-up capital from a family member.  Think Donald Trump.  7% inherited more than $50 million in wealth or a big company.  Think Charles Koch.  There were 21% of those who were born into enough wealth to be on the Forbes 400.
  • The easiest way to get out of the lower class is through a college education.  That's what everyone has said.  Most bachelor's degrees are earned by whites, 70%.  Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians account for a combined 25% of degrees in 2009-10.   And no. This is not reflective of the general population.
  • In 2010, 25% of employees hired found the job because they found the opening on an internet job board.  But now, the number one way of finding a job?  You guessed it.  Employee referral.  You are four times more likely to find a job than without one.  So, let's pretend you're trying to get into a field.  You know what company you want to work for, it's your dream job.  You've worked for a long time trying to achieve this dream.  The job offered an opportunity to get an internship to get your foot in the door.  But you could not take the internship because it was unpaid and you had to work for pay during college.  Then you try and get a job at that company.  But because you didn't get the internship, you don't know anyone at the company.  Do you think you're likely to get that job?  No worries, though, you didn't deserve it.
  • But don't worry, because of the recession people are staying at jobs for job security even if they hate their jobs.  80% of people don't like their jobs and 71% are not engaged in their jobs.  But these people are hoarding jobs from other people because if they leave, there's a good chance they won't be able to make the same amount of money.  There's a good chance that someone has your dream job and you will NEVER get it.  But no worries.  I'm sure like the other 80% of you who don't like their jobs, you deserved it.   
  • Consider the following: The top 10% in net worth hold 70% of all the wealth in the country.  The bottom 90% hold 30% of the net worth.  I'm sure that's fair.  
  • Maybe it's just that people making more money are smarter?  Well, IQ scores account for 10% of the economic variance.  
  • Every inch of height is worth about $789 in salary.  So someone who is six foot tall will make approximately $4000 per year more than myself, since I am 5'7-5'8.  But totally.  You deserve that. 
  • Malcolm Gladwell in the book Blink found that among the Fortune 500 CEO's, 58 percent of them were white men who were 6 foot or taller.  Only 14.5% of men in America are 6'0 or taller.  What's more is that 33% of the Fortune 500 CEOs are 6'2 or taller, where only 3.9% of men reach that height in America.   
  • Sociologists have found that those who work the hardest, physically, or work the most amount of hours exert the greatest effort, are the lowest paid in society.  The real money is owning things.  Not surprising.  
  • They have also found that the working poor value the same thing as Americans making more money.  As they value work, family, school, and achievement just as much as other Americans.
  • Actually, if you look at the widespread tales of exploiting workers, insider trading, embezzling, etc. you'd conclude that those who are richer are the ones who have a moral failing.  If you work within the rules, it actually limits your ability to succeed.
  • The economy is just not producing as many high powered jobs as there are adults to fill them.
  • High achieving low-income students don't even bother applying for selective schools because they don't have anyone in their life telling them how to apply for selective schools.  So they end up at local four-year universities or two year schools even though, it likely costs them more to attend these schools compared to a more selective school. Even though, they succeed at these colleges on the off chance that they can apply.
  • Recent college graduates, those who have worked hard in achieving their dream face an unemployment rate of 8.8% now compared to 5.7% in 2007.  It's not because we're lazy, if you look at underemployment, college graduates are at a rate of 18.3% compared to a rate of 9.9% in 2007. 
  • Anecdotal evidence: I was told in a job interview that I would be bored at the job I was applying for because of my college degree.  Yet, it is nearly impossible for me to find a job in my field because the education requirements are higher now than they were previously.

I could go on and on.  But please don't tell me that people get what they deserve in America.  Some might.  But there are factors out of everyone's control that does more to determine what you are going to be making or doing.  We should embrace these factors instead of repeatedly saying, if you just work harder you can do it.  If you have a job you love, congratulations.  But how did you get it?  Was it really a meritocracy?  Or did you get it because of outside factors that somebody else didn't have access to?  I'd imagine it's the latter. 

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