Wages Whip Whippersnappers

Have you ever had a crabby old person in your life who tried to make you feel guilty by telling you Great Depression anecdotes like “I used to walk 15 miles in the snow to go to school!” and “Back in my day, we didn’t have color TVs with the ‘Mary-o’ Brothers—we mined for coal in our spare time, and we liked it!”? Well, according to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, it may be time to dig deep and prepare for lean times like Gramps oh-so-bravely did.
The study concluded that average hourly wages for male and female college graduates are now lower than they were in 2001 (adjusted for inflation). Men’s wages have dropped by about $1.60 to $21.09, whereas women’s wages have dropped 60 cents to an average wage of $18.70. While the EPI notes that the plunge in wages from 2001 to 2004 is on the mend, wages have remained fairly static for women and risen only slightly for men over the last three years.
So what does all of this mean for the class of 2008? The EPI’s summation is that “[College graduates] will face a more inhospitable job market.” This, unfortunately, is asynchronous with the prevailing belief that people with college degrees and “skills required in the new economy, [like] computer literacy,” are expected to fare well. New graduates, it says, should not necessarily expect health insurance or pensions—the average rate of graduates with such benefits has dropped by a combined average of 4.75 percent.
To most students, this news is not earth-shattering. People (although maybe not in Orange County) are generally aware that the dotcom era of perusing cubicles on Segways and drinking wheatgrass shots while reclined in Aeron chairs is a thing of the past. That said, most students aren’t pursuing higher education to bring a more studious and collegiate attitude to flipping burgers at a McJob, either. This study is significant because it doesn’t just indicate an end to excess—it indicates an end to companies providing basic needs for their employees.
When healthcare costs are exorbitant and money is tight, paying for hospital visits out of your pocket is not something a majority of people can afford—especially considering that the companies cutting the plans are doing so for “starter” jobs for college graduates. However, when it comes to benefits and healthcare, the study fails to account for independent contractors. The downward trend of “entry-level jobs with employer-provided health insurance” is only relevant to those who would be working at large companies that provide such benefits. What about artists, musicians, freelance programmers, hippies, Mafiosos, etc. that never work at big companies with health plans? Those people have always been in the “self-insure or go without” boat.
To the EPI’s credit, those people aren’t the focus of the study; this study is aimed at people who are going to work in a traditional office setting, and its results are discouraging at best. The study mentions that people with college degrees expect to be paid better. However, it is not the fault of people who earned their degrees that the economy stinks. It’s always a gamble what the economy will be like when you graduate, but college students know that in the long run, it’s better to have a degree to be competitive in the job market—both qualification-wise and spiritual and intellectual fulfillment-wise (and because mom and dad said so).
Also, this study neglects the fact that most college students kind of expect to be poor for a while. Student loans, credit card bills, alcohol, moving away from the ‘rents and getting your own place, a vehicle of some sort, alcohol—these things cost money and won’t pay for themselves. So the additional information that by the way, you’re not going to make a lot of money at first—no, no, even less money, actually, is kind of like Amy Winehouse finding out her crack was laced with rat poison—it’s unfortunate, but does it even really matter at this point?
In all seriousness, the study is troubling even though it reaches an unsurprising conclusion. So, class of 2008, be prepared to make little money at first. It’s okay, though; in Gramp’s day, you could buy a house for $18.70—and he’s still going to think you are an ungrateful little snot no matter what.

Michael Boileau is a second-year political science major. He can be reached at mboileau@uci.edu.