BOSTON -- The widening gap between America's wealthiest and its middle and lower classes is "unsustainable," but is unlikely to improve any time soon, according to a Harvard Business School study released Monday.
The study, titled "An Economy Doing Half its Job," said American companies -- particularly big ones -- were showing some signs of recovering their competitive edge on the world stage since the financial crisis, but that workers would likely keep struggling to demand better pay and benefits.
"We argue that such a divergence is unsustainable," according to the report, which was based on a survey of 1,947 of Harvard Business School alumni around the globe, and which highlighted problems with the U.S. education system, transport infrastructure, and the effectiveness of the political system.
Some 47 percent of respondents in the survey said that over the next three years they expected U.S. companies to be both less competitive internationally and less able to pay higher wages and benefits, versus 33 percent who thought the opposite.
The results marked an improvement from a 2012 Harvard Business School survey of its alumni showing 58 percent of respondents expecting a decline in U.S. competitiveness, according to the survey.
But Harvard wrote, respondents of the 2014 survey "were much more hopeful about the future competitive success of America's firms than they were about the future pay of America's workers."
Harvard called on corporate leaders to help solve America's wealth gap by working to buttress the kindergarten-to-12th-grade education system, skills-training programs, and transportation infrastructure, among other things.
"Shortsighted executives may be satisfied with an American economy whose firms win in global markets without lifting U.S. living standards. But any leader with a long view understands that business has a profound stake in the prosperity of the average American," according to the report.
"Thriving citizens become more productive employees, more willing consumers, and stronger supporters of pro-business policies," it said. "Struggling citizens are disgruntled at work, frugal at the cash register, and anti-business at the ballot box."
6 Financial Issues to Tackle in the Fall
America's Wealth Gap 'Unsustainable' -- and May Worsen
For many employers, open enrollment season for some benefits happens in October. This usually sneaks up on some people, who scramble to decipher benefits and make elections last minute. Although you won't be able to see the options until the enrollment period opens, take time now to review your benefits. Are you taking advantage of any 401(k) matches? Are your fully funding your Flexible Spending Account? What about employer offered life and disability insurance? (A fun infographic from the Council for Disability Awareness shows your risks). Maximize your benefits and don't leave any money on the table.
Back-to-school time can be expensive if you're not prepared. Money is spent on clothes, books, supplies and technology -- and that's before the doors to the classroom have even opened. Before hitting the stores, do these two things:
Conduct an online search for "coupon code" along with the name of any store you'll be shopping at. Typically you can find some great online deals.
Get a list from you class or teacher of specific type of notebook, calculator, etc. required. If you can't get child's "must haves" from ahead of time, buy just the bare minimums until school starts and the list is available.
It's hard to think about the holidays when we're just making it through summer, but now is the time to build up a financial cushion. Set yourself up with an automatic transfer to a separate savings account and participate in the Holiday Fund Money Challenge to build up a savings of $450. How much do you need for the gifts, travel, parties, entertaining, food and other holiday activities you anticipate? Planning will help to ease the stress that comes around the holidays.
In lieu of scrambling at the end of the year to make contributions to retirement accounts by Dec. 31, double-check your contributions now and determine if there's room in your cash flow to allow for an increase to possibly max out by year end.
Summer is a typically a time of transitions. There are weddings, moves to new homes, possibly a new family addition and more. If summer is the time when these events take place, fall should be the time to take stock of how they're panning out. If you're recently married and haven't already, now is the time to have the money talk with your spouse and make decisions about spending plans, merging (or not merging) accounts, beneficiary updates and more. If you've moved, check out how the new location has affected your cost of living spending in terms of activities, gas costs, groceries and more. Ultimately with any transition, you need to review your spending plan and determine what areas (if any) need to be adjusted.
If you're lucky enough to live in one of the states that actually experiences seasons, fall is the time to prep for energy savings by caulking and weatherstripping doors and windows, turning your thermostat back for a fixed period each day and insulating your attic, basement or outside walls.