Sunday, November 17, 2013

LinkedIn and the New Economy

The following is either A) an insightful, educated observation of the true reality of the disruption underway of the middle class in the US, or B) a misguided diatribe that is a result of the availability heuristic and a "general" education.

For the purposes of this discussion, we will define the middle class as those that earn +/- 50% of the median household income within the US - currently ~$50K and change.  (This number has apparently been going down over the past decade or two.)

Over coffee with a friend yesterday morning, our conversation diverged to how our lives would be different had we had the tools and knowledge we have today even 10 years ago.  The world today is different, and the skills, tools and other resources necessary to thrive are different too.  My anecdote is that, had I had LinkedIn (and the attached awareness of the value of a nurtured network) while I was traveling the world on behalf of President Clinton, I would be in a different economic rung than I am now.   At the least, "change" would be "easier."

Don't get me wrong - my wife and I live well.  We are in the top 20% in terms of income, likely the top 10%.  I was born in at best the second 20%, and I grew up as our economic situation continued to
improve.  By the time I entered college, my family was well ensconced int he top 20%.  However, my take on the catalyst that enabled this rise within the socio-economic strata is that my Dad decided to make a change in 1980.  He switched careers, from being a school psychologist to pharmaceuticals.  And, with this change cam great opportunity, which he seized.

I remain in contact with many of my White House colleagues, with many reconnections made through my LinkedIn and Facebook accounts.  My point is that I cannot remember let alone contact people even half the people I worked with back in those days, people that likely could be helpful to me now and in the future.  Change is easy for me now, but it could be a lot easier with a wider, more diverse network.

My hypothesis is that the supposed "shrinking middle class" is less a result of a perilous economic attack, and more a result of the disruption of how to succeed - not unlike what has happened to music, is happening to journalism and television, and will soon happen to higher education, among other industries.  Lost in this disruption is a middle class that has a job for life, is promoted every 4 - 5 years, does roughly the same job for most of his / her career.  In it's place is an agile, undulating timeline of new roles, new responsibilities, new companies, and new colleagues.  There is no straight line in one's career trajectory, and those that understand that and equip themselves for that fact, prosper.  Those who do not stagnate.  Those that have built a network for change thrive.  Those that do not, wither.

What we are seeing in the census data is this shift.  The top 20% consists of those that understand and have adapted to this disruption, and are reaping the reward, hence the continued growth of their share of income.  As more understand this new world, more will prosper.  As our system adapts to the new reality, so too will the distribution of income.

Or not.  We shall see...

No comments: