Who Is Old Economy Steve?

My younger son sent me this link last week.  “I know it’s not all true,” he said, “but it does feel this way.”

As I told him, I can understand that it feels that way, but, no, it’s not all true.

I don't know anyone who got their dream job right our of college.I do not know anyone who paid off their student loans with their first paycheck.  I know a lot of people who had to delay buying houses because of their student loans.

Most of the people I knew did get jobs straight out of college.  That is true.  None of them were dream jobs.  They were decent entry level jobs; some were working towards a dream jobs, but they were not themselves Dream Jobs.

Actually, I worked year round at minimum wage to pay my tuition and rent.I worked minimum wage jobs throughout high school and college to pay my college tuition and rent.  Not summer jobs.  All year round.  Sometimes more than one part time minimum wage job.  Yes, tuition was cheaper then, about a third of what it is today.   Certainly not $400.

Gas was about a quarter of what it is today.  However, rents were not much different.  I know this because my son attends the same school I did.  When he told me what off campus housing was – it was barely higher than what I paid 25 years ago, when minimum wage was $3.55 an hour.

As I told my son these things, he said, “I get that, but I think the discouraging thing for my generation is that we’re the first ones who don’t expect to have a higher standard of living than our parents.  You and Dad did better than your parents, and they did better than theirs, but we won’t.  I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be proud of what you accomplished, but it’s discouraging to think that I won’t.”

Only a twentysomething could say this so earnestly.  I know because his father once believed it, too, when he was twentysomething.

When my husband was applying for the especially low (less than 10%!) interest rate loan available to low income, first time home buyers in 1989, he told me, sorrowfully, that he’d never earn as much as my dad.  He truly felt bad about it, as if he was letting me down.

He was comparing his earnings at 25 with my dad’s earnings at 56.  He was looking at the house my dad bought when he was in his forties, and not thinking about the fact that at 25, my dad was an undergraduate who was happy to no longer be working in a box factory.

We've owned four houses.  We've made money on one, lost it on three.Just like my son is looking at us, in our forties, and not thinking about the years my husband’s income barely covered the mortgage.

(That was a different house, with an interest rate that adjusted up every year at a steeper rate than the slim cost of living adjustments to our paycheck.  We lost money on it, too.  House prices don’t always go up.)

I also told my son that he was wrong about us.  Compared to our parents, we didn’t accomplish much.  My parents and my husband’s parents, they are the ones who deserve the kudos for upward mobility.

My grandparents were small town poor, coal miners.  My husband’s grandparents were inner city working (or not working) poor.  Our parents lifted themselves into the middle class, moved to Suburbia, and raised their children to work hard and value an education.

My husband and I?  We didn’t increase our socio-economic status a bit.  Yes, my husband wears a white collar where his dad wore blue.  However, our standard of living is about the same as that of our parents.  We raised our children to work hard and value an education, too.

I suspect that my son, the one who is worried about his future, will remain part of the middle class, despite what he hears from Old Economy Steve.   One day, I think he’ll even have a child who looks at him and thinks, “I’ll never do as well as my dad.”


16 thoughts on “Who Is Old Economy Steve?

  1. You are so right! I wish all the boomer-hating ranters would read this–we were poor when we started out, it took us ages to be self-supporting, and we still don’t feel we will accomplish what our parents did in terms of financial security or upward mobility.

  2. The more things change! My parents bought the house my mom still lives in for $48,000, but the interest rate was 11% and they were making about $15,000 a year.

  3. I wonder if what is really at the heart of this is that thanks to social media + “reality” TV shows kids straight out of college have unrealistic/inflated expectations about what comes next. The millennials are known to trust their peers/FB more than older people/mainstream media sources, so they are living and talking in a poor pitiful Pearl echo chamber that tells them that they’ll never get ahead. It’s not true, of course; but that’s what they believe.

  4. if you pick some random “thing” to compare, there are always many people who had it better – and worse. I guess I’m lucky in that although my son sometimes gets frustrated with having to work so hard and seemingly isn’t getting ahead, he is not blaming it on our generation, but just as the way life is sometimes, and he appreciates the sacrifices I made for him.

  5. Going to a four year university seems to be what’s expected these days. Not many consider gathering college credit while in high school and going to community college to get the basics under their belts. Fewer still consider going into the trades, which is too bad since the pay is higher than many could earn with a degree. My husband is a maintenance engineer, which requires knowledge, certification and licensing in HVAC/R and some electrical. He’s a chief engineer with a major hospital and he’s having a hard time finding enough qualified candidates to fill new positions and those open due to retirements.

    • My son did attend community college, beginning in high school. He is now completing his degree at a hour year university.

      I completely agree about the trades! We’ve always encouraged our children to consider them. I think it is a shame that public schools have done away with Vo-Tech programs, too. So many young people started good careers that way.

  6. When my husband got out of the army he moved back to California and started going to Community college for $50 a semester. Then, he transferred to Chico State University where he paid $375 a semester (1988) and it went up to $550 a semester when he was in grad school (graduating 1992). I guess college tuition prices are different depending on where you live. Maybe Steve’s prices are California based. When I went to college I paid about $550 per 3 credit class in Connecticut.

    I think the definition of middle class is probably changing too. We might not meet the standards of our parents or grandparents, but then we probably have slightly different values and goals than they did. I think people your sons age seems to be shifting from away from materialism and more towards community and time. It seems that way from things I have been reading, but of course these “themes” that get saddled to generations don’t apply to everyone. I’ve never felt like I fit into Generation X very neatly. I think we all just do our best to make our way. I have a feeling your son is going to do just fine, but I can certainly understand why he is concerned. Becoming an adult is scary stuff.

    • Thank you, Lillian! California tuitions. I had not thought of that. Those were really low, weren’t they? Lucky west coasters.

      I never knew all the generations had been given names until recently. Like you, I don’t strongly identify with ours anyway.

  7. Pingback: Who Is Old Economy Steve? - Generation Fabulous

  8. I think when you are 25 everything seems so definite. I am definitely graduating school and getting a job in my field. I am definitely getting married etc. When the reality is that life has no definite but the obvious – birth & death. As he gets older and more established he will realize that not many people follow the path they started on, it is where you end up that matters.

  9. Many young people are confused in what is luxury and necessity. This only holds them back in being truly happy. That is something that comes with age for some and some will stay confused, always wanting more and never being content with what they have. I think we all make that mistake at some point.

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