Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : January 4th 2015 Contents SBG14 FINANCE
SUNDAY BUSINESS GUARDIAN www.guardian.co.tt JANUARY 4 • 2015
When Jayson Seaver
thinks about why he
makes so much
money while some
Americans can t
catch a break, he
thinks of the sacrifices he s made, the jobs he
worked to pay for college, the 12-hour days
he spends at the office now.
And he thinks of his youngest sister, Jackie,
whom he practically begged to go to college
and how she refused and is "paying for it"
now, watching with envy while he flies around
on vacation and enjoys his wealth.
At least that s how he sees it. She has a dif-
ferent view. But they don t talk much.
"I m disappointed in her," says Jayson, 37.
"I think it s distanced us."
It s a story as old as humankind: people
raised in the same home, at the same time,
by the same parents, who as adults land in
vastly different financial circumstances.
Experts see a growing trend. The same forces
that have increasingly separated the richest
Americans from everyone else is dividing
brothers and sisters, too. It s given rise to a
mix of often conflicting emotions: jealousy
and resentment, disappointment and distance,
but also frequently understanding and respect.
From 2009 through 2012, income for the
wealthiest one per cent of households surged
31 per cent, after adjusting for inflation, accord-
ing to research by economist Emmanuel Saez
of the University of California, Berkeley. For
everyone else, income inched up just 0.4 per
As the wealth gap has widened, some mental
health professionals say they ve seen more
patients for whom such a divide has become
a personal issue.
In 35 years practicing psychotherapy, Janna
Malamud Smith says she s never had so many
clients troubled by sibling wealth. The com-
plaints have grown so familiar to her she can
riff on them without pause:
"My sibling can afford to join this country
club, and I can t."
"My brother has houses in four countries,
and why can t he help me out?"
There s more than one reason Stuart Schnei-
der and his siblings stopped speaking years
ago. But Schneider, 53, thinks the problem
began when he struck it rich in the late 90s
selling high-end textiles and began driving a
Land Rover and sporting a Rolex watch.
"I thought they would be proud of me," he
says, referring to his sister and recently
deceased brother. "But it really wasn t that
Likewise, VP Young Chang, co-owner of a
Los Angeles clothes company, thought his
cousins would be pleased he could afford a
Ferrari and BMW 7 Series until he showed up
to a family party a few years ago in one of the
"It didn t play well. It wasn t, congrats,
buddy, " says Chang, 38. "There was jealousy:
Why do you drive a BMW? We grew up the
Now, when the family gets together, Chang
borrows his mother s van.
A decade ago, sociologist Dalton Conley
produced research suggesting that income
inequality in America occurs as much within
families as among them. Yet the similarities
tend to end there. In comparing yourself with
rich strangers, Conley notes, you can always
convince yourself that they inherited wealth
or attended elite schools or had parents with
connections to lucrative jobs.
That doesn t work if your brother or sister
becomes wealthy. A disparity in siblings for-
tunes can feel, Conley says, like a judgment
on intelligence or drive.
"You had pretty much the same advantages
and disadvantages growing up," says Conley,
author of "The Pecking Order: Which Siblings
Succeed and Why."
Such tangled feelings of success and failure
can have a public impact, too. How Americans
feel about the wealth gap within their families
shapes how they feel about it nationally;
whether or not they see it as an inequity that
must be addressed, says Lane Kenworthy, a
sociologist at the University of California, San
Economists ascribe the wealth gap to a range
of factors. Some cite superstar pay for the
financial and technological elite. Others high-
light the role of low-wage workers overseas
in shrinking wages for middle class Americans
or how machines and software are replacing
people on factory floors and in office cubi-
Poll results suggest a paradox in the public s
view: Americans might resent a wealthier
sister or brother. Yet many people think the
wealth gap is due mainly to the tendency of
some people to work harder than others.
And it s not even clear most Americans
worry about income inequality anyway. Fewer
than half in a Pew Research poll last year
thought the gap between rich and poor a "very
big problem" nearly the lowest level among
the 14 rich countries where Pew conducted
"They know, or think, it s due to effort and
choice" in their family, Kenworthy says "And
they think that s probably how it works in the
nation as a whole."
The last time Jayson Seaver tried to persuade
Jackie to attend college was Christmas 2004
at their parents home in Appleton, Wisconsin.
She had just quit a waitressing job so she could
move with her boyfriend out of state. She had
little money, no health insurance and, as far
as Jayson could see, a bleak future.
"You d enjoy college," he recalls telling her,
trying the soft sell.
But Jackie, then 18, was having none of it.
And the anger between them mounted.
"You re destined for a life of mediocrity,"
"Let me do what I want!" she shot back.
Economists differ about how much weight
to give the various factors behind the wealth
gap, but they generally agree on one thing:
College matters, in part because many of the
middle-income jobs once available to those
who skipped it are disappearing.
According to a Pew Research analysis of
Census data, the average income of a household
led by someone with just a high school degree
fell 5.0 per cent from 1991 to 2012, adjusted
for inflation. By contrast, income for house-
holds led by the college educated rose 9.0 per
As with the nation, so with the Seavers.
Jayson went on to make big money at a
commodity trading company: $300,000 or
so in his last job, by his own estimate. He
invested in a restaurant in Manhattan, where
he lives. He vacations in Florida, Costa Rica
Jackie went back to waitressing, married
the boyfriend and took a job at a drug company,
where her boss called her a "top candidate"
for promotion. But he turned her down because
he said she needed a college degree. Now,
rather than jet around on vacation like her
brother, Jackie and her husband tend to go
camping. Yet she says she s happy with a more
Asked about the nation s wealth gap, Jayson
says, "You get paid what you put in. We re in
Jackie isn t so quick with a response. She
wonders if there s more behind the trend than
some people working hard and making the
right moves and others not. Still, in the end,
she essentially agrees with her brother.
"It s self-motivation that s at the root of
Jeff Nash, 68, thinks the nation s income
gap largely reflects peoples varying talents
and careers, a trend he sees in his own family.
He became a stock broker, then a venture cap-
italist. His brother chose acting, his half-sister,
"There s been income inequality since Adam
and Eve," he says. "Different siblings have dif-
Only 3.0 per cent of America surveyed about
the wealth gap by Gallup in March felt it was
the country s "most important problem," fewer
than those who cited foreign aid and immi-
gration. Asked in an October poll by Pew
Research to name the most important reason
for the wealth gap, 24 per cent chose "some
work harder than others," more than tax poli-
cies, foreign trade or the educational system.
Among dozens of people interviewed by
The Associated Press, many revealed similar
views. Jessica Sonday, 31, a software sales-
woman in Oregon, says it s only natural that
her brother, Benjamin, should earn multiples
of her pay. He was always "academic" and
focused on career, she more of the "social"
She went to work in radio after college. He
earned a PhD in mathematics from Princeton,
then made more than $200,000 at Goldman
Sachs before joining an auction Web site for
Nathan Spencer, 33, an insurance salesman
in Raleigh, North Carolina, does think the
wealth gap is a problem. Yet he s quick to
defend the wealth of his brother, Eric, a partner
at a New York architectural firm:
"He worked hard and went to grad school;
it s well deserved."
Spencer took a circuitous career route after
dropping out of college before landing at an
insurer in North Carolina, where he d moved
from Boston to escape the city s high costs.
"I ve bounced around," he says. "I ve decided
my own fate."
Psychotherapist Smith says people seem
almost "hard-wired" to measure themselves
against others with more material success.
With siblings, the comparisons can be par-
ticularly fraught. Relationships among brothers
and sisters are so complex, she says, that sib-
lings often seize upon gaps in wealth as a
shorthand for other differences between them.
Jackie Seaver says she doesn t envy her
brother s wealth. What really separates them,
she says, are differences in age and expecta-
tions, priorities and desires.
Still, she says her brother was correct about
college in that fight at Christmas all those
years ago. After being rejected a third time for
a promotion, she started attending school at
night to earn a bachelor s degree.
For his part, Jayson seems to have inched
closer to his sister s view. In 2015, he will take
a new job at a commodity brokerage that lets
him work from West Palm Beach, Florida,
where he hopes to buy a home and can "slow
down and get back to the way I grew up"---
a bit like the way his sister is living.
"I do envy her sometimes her simple quality
of life," he says. "It s hard to determine who
is the smarter, who is in a better position."
How wealth gap complicates
In this December 16,
2014 photo, Jayson
Seaver poses for a
photo in New York's
of which he is a part
owner. Seaver feels
the wealth gap has
relationship with his
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