The 'Fearless Girl' Is Nice, But Distracting

Promoting a message of diversity and gender equality in the workplace equality on International Women’s Day, State Street, a global asset management company placed a bronze statue of a little girl directly in front of the Financial District’s iconic bronze charging bull.

The ‘Charging Bull’ is a three-and-a-half ton bronze sculpture in Manhattan’s Financial District. The artist who created it, Arturo di Marco, installed it in under a Christmas tree in front of the New York Stock Exchange in late 1989, without the City’s permission. It was soon impounded, but because it was an instant hit with the public, it was later installed a few blocks south of the Exchange, where it still stands today.

According to the company’s CEO, the statue is an attempt to inspire “companies to take concrete steps to increase gender diversity on their boards and have issued clear guidance to help them begin to take action.”

The Fearless Girl, or the name given to the statue by its creator Kristen Visbal will likely remain for at least a month, but maybe longer.

While I commend State Street (and Kristen Visbal) for acting on this issue, Wall Street doesn’t deserve an applause. In fact this piece, in a weird way, just distracts Americans from the important economic issues we face, partially made worse by firms like State Street (not blaming them… the incentives are misaligned). I’m talking about economic inequality which, according to former President Obama, is “the defining challenge of our time.” Like gender inequality, economic inequality has been a concern since the dawn of time. But unlike gender inequality, economic inequality is getting worse.

If you want facts, here are facts.

· According to the Federal Reserve, the poorest half of the U.S. population holds only 1% of its wealth, down from 3% in 1989, while the wealthiest 5% holds 63%.

· The Congressional Budget Office reports that the annual income of the wealthiest 1% has tripled since 1979 while that of the rest of the population (the 99%) grew less than 45%.

· A Pew Research Center analysis of Federal Reserve data shows that the median wealth of the nation’s upper-income families is now nearly seven times that of middle-income families — the widest wealth gap in the 30 years this data has been collected.

· The same Pew study finds that, in the recovery that followed the Great Recession, upper-income families have recouped their losses and begun accumulating wealth again while wealth growth has been stagnant for everyone else.

· The Center for American Progress reports that a majority of just over 61% of American households fell into the category of “middle class” in 1979; by 2015, that figure had dropped to 50%.

We had a brief moment of progress a few years back when the Occupy Wall Street movement caught the imagination of young people, both across the United States and the world. Protests broke out in more than 100 U.S. cities, and many more worldwide. Eventually, like many other movements, the movement attracted the wrong types of people and died down.

Today the ongoing debate about economic inequality is shaky and barely intact. President Trump and his cabinet seem to disagree about the extent of the problem and how to go about addressing it. Jobs won’t help solve this, especially if the country is already at natural employment. What will? I don’t know. It’s outside the scope of my expertise. But what I do know is that our leaders need to start taking action NOW.

We can’t afford to wait. We need to take control of our own financial future and, perhaps, restore some balance to wealth distribution on a more personal scale. These remain unsure times, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. A rapidly evolving economy driven by technological innovation has all but eliminated the certainties and securities of the past. Which makes it more important than ever for you to exercise control over what you can control: your money, how you make it, how you save it, how you invest it and how you grow it.