The American Dream is an ethos of the United States, which involves the idea that upward social mobility can be achieved through hard work, regardless of social class. This dream may have been realistic in the 1930’s, but in 2014, it should be considered a fantasy. The reality is, the social ladder is becoming harder and harder for people to climb due to relatively low earnings and high cost of living. In fact, with the state of the economy, unemployment rates, and a low minimum wage it’s hard to simply make ends meet.
According to CNN, the unemployment rate fell to 6.7% in December 2013, which is the first time it’s been below 7% in five years. WHOA. Big step for the American People, right? WRONG. The percentage of the population in the labor force is down to 62.8%, which is the lowest it’s been since 1978. Long-term unemployment has led to people dropping out of the workforce, which accounts for the seemingly low unemployment rate. In reality, more people are just not actively seeking work, so they can’t be counted as unemployed.
Many jobs that are being created in the U.S. are minimum wage or part-time. According to a 2012 study by the Huffington Post, the minimum needed to survive in the cheapest county in America is $10.20 an hour. The current minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. It doesn’t take a mathematician to crunch those numbers together to see that THE MINIMUM WAGE IS NOT A LIVABLE WAGE. Even President Obama’s recent push to increase it to $10.10 an hour isn’t good enough (though it’s definitely a start).
Income inequality doesn’t just stop at raising the minimum wage; it’s also creating positions that are full-time, so it’s possible to make a livable wage. Full-time positions are now becoming part-time. College instructors are among the new faces of part-time employees, with 76 percent teaching part-time because institutions save money to replace full-time tenured faculty with itinerant teachers (adjuncts). “A full-time professor’s salary can average from $72,000 to $160,000 a year, and adjuncts average $25,000 to $27,000 a year, and often much less, regardless of where they teach.” Teachers should be among the highest paid people in society because education is a gateway to endless opportunities. Knowledge is power; I think many of us can agree on that. If our teachers aren’t even being paid a livable wage, how will they teach our future generations to live?
So we have a low minimum wage & barely livable part-time wages. It only makes sense that the new face of food stamps are the working-class, with the SNAP program covering 1 in 7 Americans. But while we are fighting for a higher wage, both sides of Congress are pushing for cuts in government assistance programs. How will we ever stop being dependent if we can’t even make a livable wage?
The Economic Policy Institute conducted a recent study with 75 economists and they came to the conclusion that raising the minimum wage would likely bring 5 million people out of poverty and grow the economy by 22 billion dollars. This piece of information is quite simple. In a capitalistic society, if people make more, they will spend more. If people spend more, the economy becomes stronger. If the economy stronger, more jobs are created, THUS leading to a lower unemployment rates and fewer people living below the poverty line.
Next time you’re watching your favorite celebrities on that new episode of “Love & Hip Hop” or “Keeping up with the Kardashians,” think about the reality that exists for all of us today. We are so obsessed with other people’s realities that we have lost sight of our own. Wake up, people.