‘Living wage’ unattainable for many Americans

Ask a student what they plan to do after graduating and you will most likely receive a worried look. The quest to find a job after college is, after all, quite a daunting prospect. This is not likely to change, as stated by a recent study that indicates wages are now falling the fastest they have in 14 years.

According to the study, published in the Financial Times, inflation is at 3.1 percent while salaries rose only 2.4 percent on average. The study also showed “real wages” — a number calculated by comparing what services or goods can be purchased at the time the wage was received — falling by 0.9 percent in 2004, a rate that had not been reached since 1991, when real wages declined by 1.1 percent, the Times wrote.

In the months leading up to the general election last year, the number of jobs lost during President George W. Bush’s first term was feahotly contested. The Democratic National Committee claimed the number of jobs lost totaled 2.7 million. The Republican National Committee responded by questioning the accuracy of the claim. The RNC, however, could not give a rosier picture that stood up to scrutiny.

Either way, it appears that jobs are becoming scarcer by the day. What makes this trend even more dire is that the jobs available pay less, and many of them do not offer a “living wage,” forcing Americans to work for numerous employers simultaneously just to get by.

During President Bill Clinton’s terms, the administration often proudly proclaimed how many jobs had been generated. The public responded at the time with jokes such as, “Isn’t it great we have all these jobs available to us? I have five and so does my wife.” It appears clear that there is enough blame to go around.

President Bush’s blasé attitude toward this rising problem, though, does raise the question of whether the government is aware how bad the situation is for many Americans. At one of the president’s carefully planned “town hall meetings” to push his plan to partially privatize Social Security, a woman told the president she had more than one job. President Bush congratulated her for doing such an “American thing.” While the president is right that it may be the norm to have numerous jobs, he missed the point that most Americans do not do so by choice but as a last resort.

The concept of a higher minimum wage may still pack some controversy, but would be successful in ensuring wages rise at the same rate across the nation. Now it appears the new challenge is not only to create more jobs, but more importantly, to ensure that such jobs offer a living wage.