Is it Impossible to Make it Here Anymore?

Aug 22, 2012

By Vicki Choitz, Helly Lee, and Jodie Levin-Epstein
Some have maxed out all their credit cards
Some are working two jobs and living in cars
Minimum wage won't pay for a roof, won't pay for a drink
If you gotta have proof just try it yourself Mr. CEO
See how far 7.25 an hour will go
Take a part time job at one of your stores
Bet you can't make it here anymore

CLASP is well-known for high-quality policy analyses and serious policy wonks. But as a few of us policy wonks were reminded at an evening concert a few weekends ago, even the best policy brief won’t move the soul like a passionate song can. When we heard these lyrics to James McMurtry’s 2004 song “We Can’t Make it Here”, it was as if he’d written a theme song for CLASP and our allies working to promote economic security and mobility.

The fact is, McMurty’s song reveals a tough reality – not only is it getting harder for many families to make ends meet each and every day, but the ability to achieve the American dream is slipping further away too. Working hard just isn’t enough anymore. 

At the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, full time, an individual earns $15,080 annually, which is below the poverty line for all family sizes. A recent report from the Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce provides more data to match the lyrics. Individuals with a high school diploma or less lost 5.6 million jobs during the Great Recession, compared to associate degree holders and those with some college education who lost 1.75 million jobs. Those with bachelor’s degrees actually gained 187,000 jobs during this period.

Since the recovery started in January 2010, those with a high school diploma or less have continued to lose jobs –an additional 230,000 jobs between January 2010 and February 2012. Those with an associate degree or some college education gained 1.6 million jobs and bachelor’s degree holders gained 2 million jobs in the recovery. Clearly those with the least education can’t make it here anymore and it continues to get worse even as the economy slowly picks up. 

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