As many of us near graduation and the final stretches of our formal education, the prospects of a bright new start looms ahead. The glowing sun holding our dreams peaks over the horizon but not without the dark shadow of a grey storm cloud following close behind.
We all have dreams and aspirations of a wonderful fairytale life where we live, work and follow our hearts. Yet the dark cloud still looms. There is an age old saying that says money cannot buy happiness, and while that may be true to some extent, money can damn well pay for a roof over your head.
I have a little over a month until graduation, and I have been doing a lot of job hunting. Many of the jobs I am looking at are in California, Los Angeles to be exact. Many of them are the typical entry-level positions that new graduates look for.
These entry level jobs offer a lot in return: excellent work experience, professional contacts and a way to expand and grow upwards. They also offer a salary anywhere between $24,000 and $36,000 a year. For someone who has only worked small part jobs and internships, that amount seems like a lot. Up to $3,000 a month! What am I going to do with all that money.
Just like getting stuck in the rain, the truth sucks. According the the Expatistan Cost of Living Index, the average cost of living in the United States is around $28,000 for a single adult with no children. However, that number is a gross average for the entire U.S., and as that expensive college degree has taught you, the U.S. is not one homogenous country.
While the cost of living might be pretty inexpensive for small town Indiana, big coastal cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. are much more expensive. Unfortunately, for many of the artistic and journalistic types such as myself, all growing jobs are in the big cities. Even more unfortunate for us is the fact that a journalism career just isn’t that profitable no matter where you live.
The cost of living can be broken down into a few major categories including food, transportation, healthcare, and most important and expensive, housing. According to a new report from the State of California Housing and Community Development Department, 1-in-3 Californians pays more than half of their income in housing, leaving them with less to spend on transportation, education or healthcare.
The burden of high housing costs falls especially hard on the lowest-paid workers. A quick online search of housing in some neighborhoods like Santa Monica and Silver Lake show that entry-level housing runs in between $1,500 and $2,000 per month, and that is for a 500 square foot studio apartment. Want two bedrooms and 1,000 square feet? Prepare to shell out at least $3,000 per month.
In no way is this a complaint about my current life choices. I am very happy with what I do and the job I will hopefully have. I knew from the beginning that a generous salary straight out of college is out of the picture. If it had truly been about money, I would have continued with automotive engineering or studied medicine or business like my parents did. This is not meant to be a pity party for myself, but rather an eye opening moment for us to realize that the U.S. is in a significant housing crisis. The cost of living has exploded over the last few decades and employers cannot and will not compensate. We need more low cost housing.
Thirty to 40 years ago, our parents were just starting their own families and buying their first house. The average cost of a three bedroom house was $48,000 and a gallon of gas was $0.59 a gallon. A semester of public college costs $1,780 and you could work 750 hours at minimum wage over the course of a year and earn enough to pay for a year of schooling. In 2010, you needed at least 1,800 hours a week to pay for the same amount of schooling.
According to statistics published by the U.S Department of Labor, the minimum wage has gone up by 353 percent since 1970 and the average income has gone up by around 500 percent. However, the average cost of housing has gone up nearly 917 percent. Americans are finding it harder and harder to pay for housing and it is only getting worse.
A recent article published in the New York Times in February 2017 found that an estimated 40 percent of people in their early 20s receive some form of monetary support from their parents to help pay for living expenses, with the median figure being $3,000 a year. Unsurprising was the fact that the largest percentage of people receiving aid were in the art and design fields, but what was more surprising was the second largest category were those in the STEM fields.
Patrick Wightman, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona who helped analyze the data, said that there was a large divide between those receiving aid in rural communities and those in large urban areas. He said those living in urban areas received nearly twice the amount of financial support as compared to those in rural areas.
On March 8, 2017, sen. Maria Cantwell, a member of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, released a new report on the nationwide affordable housing crisis. The report detailed the massive increase in the need for affordable housing as well as the massive decrease in available affordable housing.
Demand has increased exponentially yet building construction rates have gone down. From 2000 to 2013, the total number of Americans facing extreme housing unaffordability has skyrocketed from 7 million to 11.2 million, an increase of nearly 60 percent. In addition, there is a nationwide shortage of 7.4 million affordable rental homes, an increase from the 4.6 million gap in 2000. It is estimated that by 2025, nearly 15 million Americans will be spending over half of their monthly income on housing. If you factor in cost for health care transportation, food and utilities and you’re not left with a lot of extra spending money.
The U.S. needs to start a fresh new plan for building affordable housing. While low income housing plans help, we simply need a new deal, which was essentially President Franklin D. Roosevelt's staple legislation, The New Deal was the series of economic policies that helped rebuild America and pull ourselves out of the great depression. Harnessing the large amount of unemployed workers to help rebuild the crumbling infrastructure, Roosevelt’s program saved America. We need that now.
Current unemployment rates hovering just below 5 percent, many of which are blue collar workers. We need to draft new construction contracts and start building affordable housing and put people to work.
Just think, if we were creating jobs and building infrastructure instead of fighting against LGBT rights and removing health care, the U.S. could finally return to being a state filled with economic prosperity. We can be great again.
While all of this economic justice seems like a great plan, it is still hard to not feel a bit depressed with the current cost of living. The jobs and the lifestyle is calling but the living wage makes it hard. While you may be briefly in the shadow, follow your dreams and don’t let money do the talking despite its loud voice. We are all in the same boat together. Let's push through the storm and let the clouds clear.
The views expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of The Torch.