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This past week, New York Times reporter Ben Casselman wrote a powerful story with the provocative title “In a Tight Labor Market, a Disability May Not Be a Barrier.” The article praised the diversity and inclusion initiatives that are now deeply embedded in modern corporate culture. Casselman told the moving story of Kate Cosway, who obtained her master’s degree in chemistry and chemical engineering in 2014. Cosway is on the autism spectrum. Her difficulty with interviews meant her job quest had little traction until this past summer when she was taken on as an intern at Dell Technologies in the company’s audit department. She did well and earned a permanent paying position in the fall. After lauding Cosway’s rise, Casselman asks: How long will the present-day hiring party last if an economic downturn is brought about by President Donald Trump’s on-again-off-again trade war with China?
Cosway is no anomaly in today’s hot job market. Thousands of workers who were once thought marginalized and unemployable are now being pursued by employers with tempting offers: good benefits, flexible hours, and training on the job. Ex-cons, college students, retirees, and members of minority groups are all being lured into the labor market by employers faced with serious labor shortages.
Today’s labor market surge vindicates John Kennedy’s famous observation in his June 1963 address in Frankfort, Kentucky: “As they say on my own Cape Cod, a rising tide lifts all the boats.” Put otherwise, the best way to create job opportunities for any target group is to create job opportunities for everyone. That maxim stands in stark contrast with the popular condemnation of free markets as a form of “trickle-down economics”: critics argue that the lion’s share of any program of market liberalization, including tax reductions and forms of deregulation, goes first and foremost to the rich, with only a few crumbs left for everyone else.