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A Living Wage and College Students

Friday, April 1, 2011

Students of public policy have long heard that the goverment's poverty and minimum wage levels do not accurately reflect the amount of money that a person or a family could reasonably live on.  Programs such as food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit have been created as stop gaps in order to help struggling individuals and families meet their basic needs.A report out from Wider Opportunities for Women and noted in the NYT highlights the problem:

According to the report, a single worker needs an income of $30,012 a year — or just above $14 an hour — to cover basic expenses and save for retirement and emergencies. That is close to three times the 2010 national poverty level of $10,830 for a single person, and nearly twice the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.A single worker with two young children needs an annual income of $57,756, or just over $27 an hour, to attain economic stability, and a family with two working parents and two young children needs to earn $67,920 a year, or about $16 an hour per worker.That compares with the national poverty level of $22,050 for a family of four. The most recent data from the Census Bureau found that 14.3 percent of Americans were living below the poverty line in 2009.

What does this mean for us students?

First, while the conventional wisdom is that only those without high school degrees or college diplomas fall into the categories of people who are making hourly wages or making wages so far below the a living wage, today's reality is that a lot of people fall into this category.  Food stops and the EITC are no longer programs for the poor, many college-educated parents and individuals are finding themselves relying on these programs as they face a rough economy, layoffs, and debt.

Second, stay on top of your finances.  Okay, who I am I to really talk - a 21 year old college student who's parents have generously helped pay for part of her college education.  But seriously, I see this happen with my friends all the time.  School debt seems so large that buying the cute sweater or all that extra beer on your credit card doesn't seem like such a big deal.  Then the bill comes and you don't have the money to pay it off, so you pay the minimum.  My friends and my generation as a whole is racking up credit card debt and student loan debt, hoping that in the future it'll all work itself off as we graduate and receive high-paying jobs.  Reality check - the economy is not so great, those high-paying jobs are hard to come by for graduate with little to no working experience, and all that debt is difficult to pay off when you start using your paycheck for rent, food, utilities, etc.  As the report says, an individual needs to make over $30,000/year just to pay for minimal expenses and emergencies.  Debt's not included in that estimate.  Be careful taking on debt - you'll have to pay it off and you may have to give something up in the process.

Finally, all the talk of money, debt, and living wages can scare people.  No doubt, we're all worried about our futures and hoping the economy rebounds in time for us to graduate or at least in time for us to find jobs.  In order to stay ahead, remember that your first line of offense is doing things in your life that you enjoy.  No - partying all the time and going out everynight cannot be those things.  While partying may be fun, find your passions and work towards them through volunteering, internships, academics, and even group activities.  Build your resume to become a stand out job candidate, don't let the rough economic times get you down, and remember to follow your dreams because you never know where they will lead.