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.
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.
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.
(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.”