The Annual Summer Inequality Jump Is Nigh

Can we blame summer for inequality? Not quite. But summer is when young people are particularly desperate for jobs, recent graduates are staring at their first student debt bills, and are signing market rate leases for the first time.

It might not be fair to blame the warmest and most vacation-laden of the seasons for inequality, yet it’s a good lens for understanding some of the systemic factors at work. It matters that we draw attention to them, as a way of pushing back against schemes that only treat the symptoms, instead of root causes.

While increasing numbers of college students will be graduating with jobs this summer, it is also true that more of them will be facing a triple trap. The cities with the most opportunities, like New York and San Francisco, are also home to growing numbers of young people trapped in the gig economy, made up of freelancers with few rights and low pay. Meanwhile, this generation has ever larger student debt bills, and even faster increasing rents. Welcome to Millennial hell: low pay, unstable employment, debt you can’t pay, and impossible rent.

And while it may be true that most young people get by, somehow, it’s also the case that those who graduated into a recession will be feeling the ill effects for years to come. Recent graduates in the gig economy will be meeting quite a few from the classes of 2009, 2010, 2011 and so on, whose career prospects took a hit then.

As bad as this is on average, we need to remember that the average masks even greater inequalities. African Americans, including college graduates, continue to be unemployed at twice the rate of their white peers. And women on average still earn less than men – a problem that gets worse as the years go by.

Summertime, but these economic realities mean few of us will rise up singing, instead many will  enter the ranks of the precariat, with diminished opportunities and that next step in a gray zone of uncertainty. This issue of Highlights is dedicated to our long, hot, precarious summer, and those who still need support to get by.

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