In response to my recent blog, “Taking My Marbles and Going Home,” one question I received was, “Why is it that more and more households don’t have the income needed to meet basic living expenses? What social institutions are charged with leading and thinking about systemic issues?”
First, I should outline what is meant when I refer to basic living expenses. These are items like food, housing, health care, transportation and childcare. There are any number of reasons that people cannot afford these, but principally we should understand the cost for the items in respect to what people earn. As an example, in our region access to quality childcare on average costs $13,262 per household annually. A four person household earning two incomes needs to bring home roughly $70,774 to live and also pay childcare expenses for one child. Per the “State of St. Louis Workforce Report 2016,” the median household earnings for someone with a high school diploma or GED is $28,404 while the average earnings for someone with a bachelor’s degree is $50,504. Therein lies the disconnect. It costs more to live than what 44% of our region brings home. Think about 44% or 500,000 as filling the Scottrade Center to capacity 25 times- this gives you a stunning visual.
Second, I segment the question about whose domain it is to ponder systemic issues like the one at question into two groups – thinkers and doers. I believe it is the responsibility of all citizens to think about these issues because they tie directly to our collective self-interest and competitiveness as a region and nation. I believe that our policymakers should be held accountable for enacting policies that create the conditions for more people and institutions to achieve success. We need to pay better attention to education, health, job creation and childcare policy. To help more people actualize our collective dreams, we need family-sustaining jobs and we need quality and 21st century relevant education starting with childcare and pre-K through two- and four-year college and technical schools. I also believe that our institutions of higher learning, organizations like United Way and others are tasked with keeping relevant topics top of mind and facilitating easy, simple ways for people to invest in their neighbors.