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Bernanke Says Education Can Narrow Income Gap

Bolstering education and training - rather than erecting trade barriers - would help narrow the economic gap between low-and high-income workers, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said.

In his most extensive remarks to date on economic inequality, Bernanke also issued a fresh warning for the United States to steer away from policies that seek to erect protectionist barriers to trade and investment opportunities or to stifle the economy's flexibility. Doing so, he cautioned, "would do far more harm than good."

His remarks come as Democrats, who have sought to portray the Bush administration's economic and tax policies as mainly benefiting the wealthy, have made it a priority to take steps to alleviate widening economic inequality in the United States. President Bush, in recent speeches, has tried to calm angst among those who worry about their job and economic security in a constantly changing economy.

Bernanke, in prepared remarks delivered to the Omaha Chamber of Commerce, said disparities in education and training is "likely the single greatest source of the long-term increase in inequality."

Thus, "policies that boost our national investment in education and training can help reduce inequality while expanding economic opportunity," he said.

A copy of the chairman's prepared remarks was made available in Washington.

His remarks underscore the economic disparity among workers, which has been widening over the decades.

In 1979, a full-time worker close to the top of the wage scale earned about 3.7 times as much as a full-time worker near the bottom of the wage rung. Reflecting the relatively fast growth of wages of higher-paid workers, workers near the top of the wage scale today earn about 4.7 times as much as those near the bottom, Bernanke said.

Bernanke, while exploring various possible forces behind this, did not offer specific policy solutions. That, he said, must be left to politicians.

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