September 21, 2019

Are Financial Barriers to Entry Keeping Low-Income People Out of the Profession?

No Money

You may not know this but I grew up po’. Not “sorry, Adrienne, you won’t be getting a new bike for your birthday” po’, but “sorry, Adrienne, Santa won’t be coming at all this year, deal with it” po’. The child of a hardworking single mother, I learned pretty early on how to make box macaroni and cheese with powdered milk (bleh) and was wearing thrift store clothes long before it was cool.

Our income bracket wasn’t a huge deal growing up in inner-city Milwaukee, WI, but when I moved to a suburb of Madison for high school, I realized just how broke we were. While my classmates rocked Columbia fleece and Levis, I wore hand-me-down sweatshirts from my uncles. Thankfully the grunge thing happened and I was able to take my $100 yearly school clothes allowance and turn it into a year’s worth of flannel and ratty no-name jeans. Still, it’s tough being broke as a kid, hoping the food bank gives you something good that week and realizing early on that there’s something different about you when you’re at your friend’s house trying to pick out a Nintendo game from the dozens they have and suddenly realize he has so much more than you’ll ever have.

We’ve talked before about barriers to entry and the socioeconomic factors that may contribute to the overwhelming whiteness of the accounting profession, but it’s worth discussing again. So long as the conversation about “diversity” is happening, a parallel conversation needs to be had about large swaths of potential future CPAs who will never have the opportunity to go to college, much less major in accounting, pay for CPA review, and shell out another thousand bucks to sit for the CPA exam.

Idk who this dude is but he makes a good point.

And a follow-up tweet:

Back in my CPA review days, a full course including books, practice MCQ, and lectures ran about $2,000 for individuals who did not qualify for discounts (students, certain firms, past students of other CPA review courses). For someone living hand-to-mouth, $2,000 might as well be $20,000 for as feasible as it is that they’ll get their hands on it.

This isn’t to say that those who join the profession from more privileged backgrounds don’t work their butts off; the process is difficult work for anyone regardless of class or income. What the tweet does imply is that by its very nature, the profession’s pipeline is staffed with a toll of sorts that weeds out those without the means to pay it.

You shall not pass

There’s also the matter of “fitting in.” Team dynamics are a huge factor in public accounting, and it stands to reason that birds of a feather flock together as it were. Individuals who can seemlessly glide between colleagues, partners, and clients are more likely to have successful careers in accounting. Who do you think is more likely to possess this quality, the poor brown kid from the inner city who manages to claw his way out of poverty and into the middle class through education, or the suburban kid of means who attends a relatively prestigious school, lands a Big 4 offer with ease because he does well at Meet the Firms, and knows how to act around people similar to him because he’s been doing it all his life?

Not to say people can’t adapt, and certainly there is no shortage of stories of folks from piss-poor backgrounds who struck it rich through sacrifice and hard work. After all, that’s what America is all about, right? Anyone can be anything they want to be, you’ve just got to put in the work.

Still, you have to wonder how many smart, hardworking kids will never get a chance to even consider joining the profession due to the innumerable costs — both social and economic — standing in their way. If the profession wants diversity, they’re going to have to dig deep in self-reflection and realize why so many cubes are populated with the same kinds of people from such similar backgrounds.

Have something to add to this story? Give us a shout by email, Twitter, or text/call the tipline at 202-505-8885. As always, all tips are anonymous.

Related articles