Of children born in 1940, 92 percent would grow up to earn more money than their parents did, after adjusting for inflation.

By 1980, that figure had dropped to 50 percent.

With that stark statistic, Nisha Patel opened her keynote presentation before about 300 Northern Virginia business and community leaders Thursday at the “Shape of the Region Conference,” presented by the Community Foundation of Northern Virginia and other regional organizations.

“If people feel like it’s harder to get ahead than it used to be,” Patel said, “it’s because it is.”

The event, at Valo Park in Tysons, focused on the business case for economic mobility in the region. Patel and other speakers and panelists discussed the growing chasm between the “haves” and the “have-nots” and ways to close that gap.

Patel, who lives in Washington, is managing director for Narrative Change and National Initiatives at Robin Hood, a New York foundation focused on fighting poverty. Previously, she was executive director of the U.S. Partnership on Mobility from Poverty, an Urban Institute program supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Through two years of studies and community visits, that partnership identified a number of factors that contribute to the economic gap, including where people live.

“Zip code matters more than genetic code,” Patel said. “Hard work isn’t necessarily enough.”

She noted that women, African-Americans and Hispanics were more likely to work low-wage jobs, defined as those paying less than $12 an hour. In addition, she said workers are now more likely to be contractors than full-time employees and change jobs frequently, both of which mean they have less access to health insurance, disability insurance and retirement plans.

Strategies the partnership developed to close the income gap included creating access to good jobs, with a particular focus on improving health-care and related jobs that can’t be replaced by robots, ensuring that where people live doesn’t determine their economic future, and providing support that empowers lower-income families and gives them dignity.

The other keynote speaker, Brent Orrell, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, talked about training as a way to close the gap, but said that public support for skills training is fragile.

“The public wants to see people trying – the boot-strap ethic – to sustain additional investment in job training,” Orrell said.

Orrell cited a 2018 Harvard University study that found that 64 percent of people who graduate from college with degrees in science, technology, engineering or math, the so-called “STEM” fields, leave their STEM occupation within 10 years.

“That’s a big problem,” he added. “That’s a massive brain-drain going on.”

Although these workers often start at higher wages than their peers, that pay tends to plateau, and they have fewer promotion opportunities. At the same time, technology is changing so rapidly that younger workers may have more up-to-date skills.

The “technology talent pipeline” was the subject of a panel discussion moderated by Bobbie Kilberg, president and CEO of the Northern Virginia Technology Council.  During that session, Steve Partridge, vice president of workforce and economic development for Northern Virginia Community College, talked about NVCC’s efforts to help high schools develop career pathways leading toward jobs in information technology. He noted that 40,000 IT jobs go unfilled every year in the region.

“If we want the jobs to continue in Northern Virginia, we have to be more proactive,” Partridge said. “We need to get people into the job market faster, make them work-ready in months, not years.”

In addition to the Community Foundation, the event was presented by the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the Northern Virginia Technology Council and the Northern Virginia Regional Commission.

(2) comments


“Of children born in 1940, 92 percent would grow up to earn more money than their parents did, after adjusting for inflation. By 1980, that figure had dropped to 50 percent.”

All of the American children born in the United States in 1940 attended a school system that began each day with the students Pledging Allegiance to The United States and saying the Lord's Prayer.

Teachers concentrated on teaching the 3Rs, reading, writing and arithmetic, logic (algebra) civics, geography, history and physics. Competition, how to win, how to lose and survival of the fittest in man and nature were embedded into each student as critical elements of developing their lives yet to come.

Personal pride in legible cursive letter writing, hand printing, spelling, grammar, punctuation and a command of the English language were fundamental ingredients to America's school system. Each student was required to know the names and capitols of every state in our nation.

The teacher's word was law, the school principle's wooden paddle maintained the order and America, with all of her flaws was envied, feared and respected world wide as the greatest nation that ever existed on Earth. The quality of our manufacturing and products were always the best of the best throughout the world. Pride in our workmanship was very strong. The Holy Bible, even if you didn't believe in God served as the standard reference guide for every person in our nation to identify, know and understand what was right and what was wrong regardless of the challenges, issues or problems at hand. How do I know? “Because the Bible tells me so.”

Then on June 25, 1962, the U.S. Supreme Court declared prayer in public schools unconstitutional.

In August 1969 the Woodstock Music Festival was a three-day concert that involved lots of mud, sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll referred to as 3 days of peace and music.

With those two stark events alone a new era for America began. And so it is today in 2019 we are treated to endless blithering I make myself feel so good jibber jabber none or all of which can not figure out what in the world went wrong with our businesses, communities and nation.

Never mind that nowhere in the esteemed analysis, glorified planning, research, studies and articles will you find a single word about the systematic destruction and/or elimination of the very foundation blocks that made America great in the first place.


I often hear people parrot simplistic generational comparisons made like the one in the article. The root causes are so much more complicated. The US was starting to emerge from a depression in 1941. Of course, the next generation would earn more than their parents! Then, there was the GI Bill supporting a huge number of military veterans to attend college, a wartime economy and post-war industrial boom. K-12 schools were strong on the academic basics which meant students earned their grade promotions, there was a reciprocal respect between teachers and children, and parents supported educators and held their children accountable for their school performance. There were strong vocational programs in schools as all professions were valued if they could provide a career. Families saved money. Parents often sacrificed to save for part of their childrens’ college careers and teenagers worked to save and support their college costs. It was stressed from a young age to choose a career, identify how to get there, then work for it. Choosing majors in college that did not prepare for careers was not encouraged. Technology and global competition has also played a role. The list goes on, but the important thing is that the opportunities are still there and hard work WILL still get the younger generation ahead. I’ve seen it happen time and again, especially with newer immigrants willing to seize those opportunities.

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