Turning earners into active investors is important to founding a career doing meaningful work.

Greetings from Washington, D.C. where Chamber of Commerce (perfect) weather — and the Washington Capitals’ ascent to the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals — has lifted a lot of spirits.

It doesn’t take much to make Washingtonians happy.

But, aye yaye yaye! There’s so much negative news to leave us distressed, and some of it doesn’t originate from a certain unnamed person’s Twitter account.

Case in point: this week’s announcement that iconic American motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson has pink-slipped 350 of its loyal and hard-working full-time wage-earning Missouri-based employees.

Last September, House Speaker Paul Ryan did a much-covered presser at a Harley-Davidson facility in his Wisconsin house district; it was there that Speaker Ryan espoused the many virtues of tax reform. With a twinkle in his eye, he chanted the trope that passage of the tax reform and reduction bill would liberate industry to do what it had long promised: reward full-time employed American workers with significantly increased wages, bonuses, and other things.

Surprise! American industry has, in the months since passage, responded not with promised increased wage and upside opportunities for workers, but rather with huge windfalls to shareholders in the form of stock-buy-backs. Harley-Davidson buried news of the 350 firings deep within the paragraphs of the official announcement of a stock buy-back plan that will considerably boost the value of investor-held Harley Davidson shares.

So, shareholders win. WOO HOO! But, hard-working-living-only-by-the-paycheck workers, who believed the President, Speaker Ryan, and the C-suite when all promised that their good times were on the way, wait and wait and wait.

And this week, 350 dedicated professionals among them got punked like Charlie Brown.

Turning Earners into Active Investors

It never used to be this way. As late as the 1980s and 1990s, a typical professional entering the workforce enjoyed several years of upward mobility. Even if the received increases in upside were modest, one still enjoyed some semblance of getting ahead — more pay, perhaps a loftier title, and the trappings of success such as a nice(r) place to live and lots of acquired stuff.

But America in 2018 is a bifurcated nation separated into never-been-so-successful investors and lucky-to-be-employed wage and salary earners. There is definitely overlap between the tribes — a plurality of American workers do own company sponsored 401k and 403b retirement accounts and, to a lesser degree, retirement pension plans. But, a wide swath of the American workforce relies solely on wages and salaries earned to get by. We are not all binge-watching Jim Cramer’s Mad Money on CNBC while playing Wall Street.

Turning Earners into Active Investors


The idea that hard work and grit alone will get you ahead — like the work that many workers do — is today rendered meaningless.

Let’s disabuse ourselves of the notion that someday we will return to the good old postwar days of financial scale through a paycheck. Instead, let us adjust to the new paradigm, that we in the workforce must align ourselves with new shareholder-driven realities of getting ahead, because it is shareholders who benefit first and most often.

The youngest and thriftiest workforce members are indeed focused on the New American Dream of achieving economic stability, turning to technology to help them stay whole; Millennials and just-entering-the-work-world Plurals are accessing best apps to help them to grow their nest eggs, and supplement their active years of wage and salary earning with income derived from dividends, interest, and capital gains.

The savviest among them are lining up with investment advisories.

The workforce of the future MUST learn to apply financial literacy and investment skill and do so early. That means that, at last, we shed the hyper-consumerist impulses of the past to live now well and well within our means. We must save as much as possible, and, invest wisely a healthy portion of our savings from wage and salary for the long run in well researched and solidly performing equities and other investments. That way, we in the workforce can ably withstand a job loss or emergency without going flat broke.

Learning to become financially literate and successful at investing also liberates more of us to do the work that we want to do — meaningful work. And as active and activistic investors, we can use our social conscience to buy equities with corporate missions that we believe in and avoid others that we don’t.

Sorry, ExxonMobil. HELLO, Unilever!

Investing is not easy to do; success in it takes focus, acquired knowledge, skill, and most of all patience. But, learning how to grow a portfolio of personal wealth is perhaps the-most important component of the American workforce successfully shifting to and doing more meaningful work. When more of our financial needs are satisfied by investment earnings — and not just paychecks — we can choose work that we want to do to thrive rather than to settle on work we need to do, to survive.

Make sure to consult reputable professional tax preparers and certified investment managers well in advance of making any investments. If time is on your side, then apply your time and resources wisely. And most of all, DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Subscribe to Barrons, join The Motley Fool, even spend some time watching Mad Money with Jim Cramer on CNBC.

And with that, I know this: our best days lie ahead.

DAN SMOLEN is executive producer and host of the podcast, The Tightrope with Dan Smolen, which is available on Apple Podcasts and DanSmolen.com.

Image credits: Worker/Investor, Getty Images; Charlie Brown and Lucy Van Buren with Football, Charles M. Schultz and United Features Syndicate; “Mad Money” Host Jim Cramer, CNBC.