The economy has evolved in ways that are difficult to define since the 1980s. Unless you go further into the figures, the true impact of inflation and wage stagnation is not obvious. That’s exactly what a recent college graduate did after her mother mentioned that young employees “expect too much.”
“I think boomers can’t conceptualize this [struggle] because they never had to fight for jobs,” said Cat, a 21-year-old college student. After a conversation with her mother about mismatched expectations, she recently took to TikTok to explain why older employees may find it difficult to connect with the economic hardships of younger people. As of May 12, the video has been seen 2.2 million times.
In 1980, Cat’s mother earned $36,000 a year as an entry-level bank teller. Meanwhile, according to her calclations, the average entry-level worker in America now earns $55,260 per year. However, when adjusted for inflation the entry-level salary in 1982 — about $33,700 — was closer to $102,200 in today’s dollars.
@cataloguing sorry but i’m just so over people projecting their lived experiences from 1980 onto me thinking it’s super relevant to today’s reality #college #student #postcollege #job #employment #boomers ♬ original sound – Cat
In effect, a recent college graduate earns half as much as his or her parents earned 40 years ago. This also is applicable to low-income employees. The federal minimum hourly wage in the United States was $3.10 in 1980 and is now just $7.25. These workers’ earnings may have quadrupled in 40 years, but the expense of living has clearly skyrocketed.
A dollar in 1980 was worth the same as $3.68 now. To maintain buying power at least by 1980 levels, the minimum wage should have risen to $11.40 by now.
Labor has been effectively undervalued, which is at the basis of many young employees’ frustration. And one of their favorite venues to express these feelings is through TikTok comment sections.
“Boomers had the door wide open and then slammed and barred it behind them,” said one angry commenter to Cat’s video.
“Everything goes up but our salaries,” said another.
The majority of the 7,000-plus comments on the video appear to agree with Cat’s remarks. Some new grads claim to be earning less than the national average or to have been looking for a suitable job for years.
“The job market hates entry-level workers,” said one commenter who says they’ve been unable to get a job in their industry after graduating two years ago.
Some good news
It’s not all bad news for American workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median weekly income for full-time workers surpassed inflation in the first three months of 2023.
Furthermore, the country’s lowest wage earners are growing faster than the highest incomes. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the poorest 10% of American employees had their real (inflation-adjusted) salaries climb 6.4% from January 2020 to September 2022.
With a low unemployment rate, it seems younger, poorer workers may be enjoying a rare period of outperformance over older, wealthier ones.