Rising Economic Insecurity

Center of Concern | Sat, May 31, 2008

By Katie Bilek
Source: Center of Concern
Reflection on a briefing at the Washington DC Economic Policy Institute, May 29, 2008

68% of Americans prefer income stability over the opportunity to make more money. While this may seem to counter the American Dream of achieving wealth, when viewed through the lens of basic human rights and dignity, it is not at all mysterious. Catholic Social Teaching recognizes the necessity of a stable source of income. Unfortunately, scholars Jacob Hacker, Elizabeth Jacobs, and Peter Gosselin report at an Economic Policy Institute panel that instability in American family incomes is rising.

Since the mid 1970's, earning instability has grown, especially among male workers (disproving the argument that the large number of women whose work patterns are inherently more erratic due to childbirth etc.). Also, income volatility has grown nearly as steadily for the college educated as it has for those without a high school diploma. Furthermore, not included in the data on income instability is the reality that corporate retirement and health insurance plans are not a guaranteed safety net.

This insecurity causes an anxiety in the American worker that is usually reserved only for the truly poor. Due to such instability, no one can rest assured that they will be able to provide for their families. This lacking sense of basic financial security makes us less likely to take risks and pursue passions both in our jobs and our personal lives. I think that stability in one's career and an adequate safety net of retirement and health care breed the confidence that leads to happiness and success. Economic security breeds productivity, ingenuity and opportunity. If 68% of us no longer strive for the American Dream, but instead, simply hope for a reliable source of income, one wonders in what other ways our aspirations have been compromised.

Katie Bilek is a summer intern at The Center of Concern. She will be entering her senior year at Notre Dame University in the Fall.