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Wage stagnation leads to apathy

Over 9,000 empathetic comments on her TikTok prove that Berghoff isn’t alone in her struggles.

“People forget boomers got pensions[,] they had an incentive to stay and the pay was equitable,” says a comment with 28,400 likes. “[I]t’s no longer that way.”

Recent data shows that wage stagnation over the last few decades is having a huge impact on Americans’ purchasing power.

The minimum hourly wage was $3.10 in 1980; today, it sits at $7.25. This may sound like a 50% increase, but a dollar in 1980 has the equivalent of today’s $3.68 of purchasing power. If you factor in inflation and cost of living, the minimum wage would need to be $11.40 for Americans to have as much purchasing power as they did in 1980.

It’s not just younger workers who can’t make ends meet. Berghoff says that she was gobsmacked to hear that her 40-year-old co-workers weren’t being paid much more than her.

“There were people in their 40s in the company who were making the same amount of money as me, still in the same struggling to get by position,” Berghoff says in her TikTok clip.

“And I was like: ‘This is it? This is life?”

With this kind of wage stagnation affecting workers of all generations, can you blame Gen Z for being disillusioned with traditional employment?

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Gen Z prioritizes work-life balance

Berghoff eventually left the health care company because her marketing role was “soul crushing” and her health suffered.

“I’ve sadly been happier doing odd jobs here and there, struggling to pay bills, and just living life and having fun,” she says.

This sentiment is shared by 73% of Gen Zers, who prioritize a healthy work-life balance over a higher salary, according to a recent ResumeLab survey.

This may be due to the rocky start that many of Gen Z are having as they begin their careers.

They have faced and are facing events like the pandemic, the climate crisis and inflation. This has led this young generation to have the least positive outlook of all generations, according to a 2022 McKinsey study. And that translates into work.

Gen Z has a point

As Gen Z starts to take over the workforce, companies can’t ignore their demands for higher salaries and more work-life balance.

For instance, a survey from student well-being platform TimelyCare found that 36% of this year’s college seniors prioritize companies with mental health benefits in their job search.

Older generations are starting to make mental health a priority as well.

Data from workplace mental health non-profit Mind Share Partners shows half of the surveyed millennials (some of whom are now in their 40s) left their jobs because of declining mental health.

So what are they doing instead? Side hustles and freelancing. From writing to nannying to renting out extra space, young Americans are finding ways to make ends meet outside of the 9-5 grind.

Roughly 43% of all Gen Zers and 46% of millennial professionals took on freelance work in 2022, according to freelance marketplace platform Upwork.

Berghoff warns employers that they need to listen to her generation – or else.

“Gen Z, to their core, takes the motto, ‘work to live, do not live to work’ very seriously,” she says. “If corporations don’t start understanding that, it’s just going to keep getting worse for everybody.”


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Sabina Wex is a writer and podcast producer in Toronto. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, Fast Company, CBC and more.


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