Austin B. Wright
Stone Bridge High School
Ashburn, VA
10th Grade
3rd Place, Virginia

    Is it fair that only ten people win and receive a scholarship because of their Junior Achievement essay? Why doesn’t everyone who submits an essay within the proper guidelines receive the same amount or an equally divided portion of the awarded scholarship, regardless of the quality of their work? The question posed about income disparity could be actually be interpreted as, “Shouldn’t everyone in our country earn an equal income?” The definition of disparity is “the lack of similarity, of equality.”( what entitlements do we have as citizens of the United States of America? Under the Constitution we are all equal and all deserve equal opportunities of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but does that include our income as well? 

    Opportunity for all was the vision our Founding Fathers had when they created the Declaration of Independence. While I believe that they desired everyone to prosper, our government was designed to reward hard work. Monetary rewards from hard work are a motivator to improve one’s socio-economic situation. It also builds confidence and self-esteem. Do we want citizens to lose the drive that keeps them improving and moving forward? Hard work doesn’t necessarily mean that one will become prosperous. There are challenges that need to be overcome in order for everyone to have a fair chance at the American Dream. The question is how this can be achieved. 

    Economic disparity is a societal challenge that must be addressed. The most effective place to start is with the rising generation of students. While I don’t believe it is realistic that everyone will eventually have equal incomes, and certainly not in a short time frame, I do believe that there are ways our country can work towards that goal. Education, strengthening families, and rewards for hard work by providing opportunities can shrink the economic gap. 

    Education is the most important way to increase earnings for individuals. According to the Current Population Survey’s Annual Social and Economic Supplement, in 2010 the earnings difference between a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree was an average of a little over $20,000 a year. ( this figure increased with each additional degree earned. Education can open doors of opportunity that might otherwise be shut. Skills can also help to increase income level. Those who choose not to pursue a formal education might instead focus on an occupational trade. Education and knowledge of skills increase a person’s exposure to possible career paths and can open doors to opportunities to increased income. 

    Learning can be enhanced so students will desire to continue to pursue learning at a higher level. While this sounds simple, teachers play a vital role in a student’s education. As a student, I like to know how the things I am learning will apply to my life. They want to know “what’s in it for me?” The more a teacher can directly correlate the learning to a desired life skill, the more likely I am to pay attention. Interest increases learning. A teacher’s enthusiasm is also invaluable. The best teachers I’ve had are the ones who have been passionate about their subjects. 

    Many students are unaware of the various careers and opportunities for their future. Schools can better educate students about future career possibilities, to include how to apply for college and financial aid. There are thousands of scholarships each year that go unused because they are not applied for. There are opportunities already available for those willing to look for them. Many young adults just don’t know where to look. 

    Families are the most important unit in society and need to be strengthened. History shows us strong families are the backbone of society. There is a direct correlation between strong families and economic prosperity. Divorce has become a huge challenge in the American society. Divorces cause instability and emotional trauma for a child which can hinder learning, but also can also affect incomes as well, thus increasing the disparity of incomes in our country. The National Bureau of Economic Research studied the effects of divorce. “One major conclusion of their research is that the family income of children whose parents divorce and remain divorced for at least six years falls by 40 to 45 percent”.(NBER) 

    “In countries with higher income inequality – such as Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States – a child’s future earnings are likely to be similar to his or her father’s, suggesting that socio-economic background plays a large role in the development of children’s skills and abilities”. (OECD education today) Basically, the family is a big influence on the career path their child will take which in turn can reflect their future income. 

    Parents have a huge impact upon their children’s education. Children look to their parents as role models. New research from North Carolina State University, Brigham Young University and the University of California, Irvine finds that “parental involvement is a more significant factor in a child's academic performance than the qualities of the school itself.” (Science daily) Emphasis on success in school and continuing higher education are more likely when parents are involved. Children of parents who have attended a higher educational institution and received advanced degrees are more likely to further their education also. 

    Opportunity and hard work are the key words in shrinking income disparity. My grandfather has often told me, “The only thing every human being can do equally is nothing.” Though two people can have the same opportunities, if one chooses to work harder or smarter than the other, that person is most likely to succeed. This is true in increasing one’s earning potential. We cannot just throw money at a problem and expect it to fix itself. Even if the government were to give everyone an equal salary, there would be some who would increase it and others who would squander it away. This has been demonstrated in countries where all are given resources equally without regard to their achievements. Again my grandfather’s words of advice, “If a problem can be solved with money, it is not a problem.” The human spirit of working hard towards a goal cannot be squelched or dismissed. 

    Exposure to new places and skills can be important. Communities, businesses, churches, and schools can work together to provide new experiences for individuals. Knowledge is a powerful key to opening doors to opportunities of employment and skills. Rewards of recognition, promotions or scholarships are examples of how society can strengthen one’s desire to improve his or her circumstances. This all can lead to an increased desire to do better and work harder. As a result, incomes can be elevated. 

    Even with goals of increasing education, strengthening families and providing opportunities for individuals to increase their earning potential, the responsibility of increasing one’s earning potential essentially depends upon the individual. You cannot push someone to succeed without the desire to help themselves. One must put forth the effort in order to achieve a reward, in this case, increased incomes. Income disparity will always be around though society can try to lessen the socio-economic gaps. Economic equality should not be an entitlement, but opportunities should be equally available for all. Just like this contest, rewards should be based on hard work, high work quality and persistence. If not, all the students writing this essay should be financially rewarded solely for their efforts. If that is indeed the case, I’ll be watching for my check in the mail! 


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Chung, Ji E. "OECD Educationtoday: How Can Education Help Tackle Rising Income Inequality?" OECD Educationtoday: How Can Education Help Tackle Rising Income Inequality? N.p., 2012. Web. 24 Oct. 2012. < /2012/04/how-can-education-help-tackle-rising.html>. 

Francis, David R. "Income Declines after Divorce." Income Declines after Divorce. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2012. 

"Parenting More Important Than Schools to Academic Achievement, Study Finds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 Oct. 2012. Web. 24 Oct. 2012. < releases/2012/10/121010112540.htm>. 

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