I read USA Today’s recent article Why Does American Work Feel So Bad? and was struck by the juxtaposition of relief at having a job mixed with the stress and anxiety it can bring.
Families today are struggling even with both parents working. The cost of living is increasing while wages are remaining relatively flat having workers stretch their budget, and forego saving for unplanned expenses, college, and retirement.
The following infographic shows the average cost of living for a single person is a major city here in the U.S.
And this is for a single person. Add a spouse and family, and what it takes to pay for housing, food, and utilities increases dramatically.
The basics of getting by are a struggle, and there isn’t much on the horizon to suggest the problem will get much better. Today’s workforce is working more with less support than in the past.
Women make up about half of the workforce, yet paid family leave and reliable, affordable child care is hard to find. Many women leave the workforce for some time to raise children only to return to their career to find they have to start over, and never quite make up for the time they took off after having a child. The price many women pay to have children is extraordinary.
Add to the stress of finding affordable childcare our 24/7 culture, and we have a real recipe for disaster. Parents are overworked and stressed leading to higher incidents of depression and high risk behaviors. We get on the hamster wheel and go faster and faster hoping it will make up for the ever widening gap of what it takes to make ends meet.
The outlook for young adults coming out of college is challenging, too. College grads have more debt than previous graduates yet have less resources to devote to living expenses. Many jobs today require higher education degrees, sinking young professionals into years of debt all while earning less than previous generations. High school students are being asked to weigh the cost of an education against earning potential right around the time they are learning to drive a car. It’s a tall order to expect our youth to land on both feet after college while managing 10s of thousands of dollars of debt.
There is no easy answer here, but it is worth noting that both Republicans and Democrats have introduced bills to address paid leave for families. It is not a panacea, but it is a start that lawmakers are trying to chip away at the problem. They need to do more. U.S. employers have an abysmal record for guaranteed paid time off, and by abysmal I mean that U.S. employers don’t offer guaranteed paid time off. Iran, Mexico, Chad, Congo, and China ALL offer guaranteed paid time off. Just think about that for a moment. We laud ourselves as cutting edge and forward thinking yet when a couple decides to have a baby, U.S. employers are not required to offer any paid leave. There are companies that do, don’t get me wrong, but none are required.
When I think about where families are today given the economic and social constraints, I understand why more folks feel overwhelmed and under water. Why wouldn’t they?
I’m curious. What is your experience with starting a career, managing bills, and raising a family?