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For years, many Americans followed a simple career path: Land an entry-level job. Accept a modest wage. Gain skills. Leave eventually for a better-paying job. The workers benefited, and so did lower-wage retailers such as Walmart : When its staffers left for better-paying jobs, they could spend more at its stores. And the U.S. economy gained, too, because more consumer spending fueled growth. Not so much anymore. Since the recession began in late 2007, that path has narrowed because many of the next-tier jobs no longer exist. That means more lower-wage workers have to stay put. The resulting bottleneck is helping widen a gap between the richest Americans and everyone else.

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