Wages have been stagnant for young workers in the United States for the last two decades. Most Americans have less than $1,000 in savings to fall back on in the event of some unforeseen catastrophe—an emergency room visit or just a month of too few shifts. The federal minimum wage has been locked in at $7.25 for the last eight years, leaving a family of four $9,000 short of the federal poverty threshold even on a full-time salary.
It can be hard to make a living, and harder still to put money away to make something more than that. And while the draft budget floated by the Trump administration isn’t anything close to settled policy, proposed funding cuts would hit affordable housing, food assistance, the Labor Department (along with its capacity to enforce regulations that protect workers), and a running list of programs that people depend on for their literal survival.
It’s a lot. And talking candidly about the ways we do and don’t make a living—and the levels of precarity or comfort we might face in the process—is one way into some bigger questions about what we believe our responsibilities are to one another, and what a government’s responsibility to its citizens might be.
So I’ll ask: How long could you get by if you lost your job today? How are you doing it if this is already your story?