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Lessons from the 1%: How to Get Ahead in Life

Article by Ike Brannon April 27, 2012 //   5 minute read

While the Occupy movement rails against the injustices perpetrated by those who have access to wealth and power in this world, it’s worth noting that Republicans do not occupy a prominent spot amongst the “One Percenters.” The communities, schools, and networks that feed into Wall Street and Washington, D.C., are primarily Democratic bastions. These bastions look for (and produce) like-minded people and then direct them into the schools, internships, relationships, and entry-level jobs that are the gateway to the powerful and high-paying jobs in those cities. There is still a wide geographical disparity in this country: People tend to go to college in close proximity to where they grow up, and return from college to look for jobs near their home as well. It’s in no small part because the majority of people want to stay close to their family and friends, but it’s also the case that proximity to friends and family makes it easier to find a job. The reality about the wicked world of jobs is that most are still handed off among friends, neighbors, and acquaintances in their network — Monster.com be damned. Someone from Davenport, Iowa, who goes to school in Iowa City will graduate from college having a network of friends and family in both cities — and perhaps a few folks in Des Moines, Chicago, and St. Louis, if he’s lucky. But the odds are high that his parents, neighbors, friends, and professors will not know anyone in Washington, D.C., or New York. It’s also improbable that any recruiters from either place visited his campus (that’s almost assuredly true if he went anywhere other than his state’s flagship school). So how would this student — even if he were an accomplished scholar with an enviable record — get a job with an investment bank or in a Congressional office? He or she would have to move to the city without any real prospects and then try to navigate the job market alone. It’s not impossible — people do it every day — but it takes a degree of chutzpah, drive, and ingenuity that few 20-somethings can muster. In D.C. the formula for breaking into the political world typically involves taking an unpaid internship with a Congressman from one’s state and then using those months to find a paying gig — or failing that, another unpaid internship while continuing the search. For someone from a family without much money it can often mean working nights to pay for room and board — which unfortunately is also the best time to meet people who might be useful in the job search. And it’s not at all obvious to someone from Davenport, Iowa, that this path — albeit precarious — to insinuating oneself in the D.C. political culture even exists. It is a thousand times easier for those who grew up in the liberal, connected enclave of Bethesda, Maryland, to penetrate the D.C. scene. It’s safe to say that nearly every parent who resides there knows someone who has worked on the Hill and has some connections in Congress that can help his son or daughter get interviews. If the child were to go to the University of Maryland — or any elite private school in the northeast — then it’s also likely that they’ll have professors who have had jobs at the World Bank, various regulatory bodies, cabinet agencies, and the like. A student paying attention to their political science prof’s anecdotes (which can be admittedly difficult) can easily strike up a conversation with the professor and use a little flattery (skills no doubt passed on to them by their parents) to inquire about how to get a job with such an agency, with the reasonable expectation that an e-mail address and an introduction will be proffered. Republican parents want to help their kids and their kids’ friends just as much as Democratic parents, but there are fewer of them in the East Coast enclaves that are convenient to D.C. and New York. A parent can do very little to smooth the path for their kids to the citadels of power from Davenport. So it’s not primarily the children of the conservative parents growing up in the South or the Midwest who are ascending the positions of power in New York and D.C. Rather it’s the people who grew up in affluent, privileged, and mainly liberal households along the East Coast, who get to work for Goldman Sachs or on Capitol Hill.