I have a lot of things on my mind right now--hence my increasingly inconspicuous absence from the diaries and the comments as of late. Work has been very busy, but I have been actively searching for political jobs since that's the direction I want my career to be moving in. In addition, the application for the grad school program I'm interested in for next year just became available. Add to the fact that I'm moving out of my apartment in a couple of weeks and moving in with my girlfriend of nearly 8 months, and you can see a recipe for a lot of concerns.
Especially financial concerns.
In today's diary, I'm going to discuss some of the problems that people of our generation--the Xes and Ys--face in dealing with life issues, and give you a little bit of a reading list. It'll make your blood boil, but I guarantee you you'll also get some education out of it.
First, a disclaimer:
Kossacks Under 35 is a weekly diary series designed to create a community within DailyKos that focuses on young people. Our overall goals are to work on increasing young voters' Democratic majority, and to raise awareness about issues that particularly affect young people, with a potential eye to policy solutions. Kossacks of all ages are welcome to participate (and do!), but the overall framework of each diary will likely be on or from a younger person's perspective. If you would like more information or want to contribute a diary, please email kath25 at kossacksunder35 (at) gmail dot com
The fact is, our generation is having a miserable time trying to get ahead. Cost of living soars, our wages don't seem to go up, and before you even get to that point, a whole ton of us are saddled in massive amounts of debt from our student loans. Buying a house in an area that you'd actually contemplate living in? With what down payment, given the fact that we would need tens of thousands of dollars in savings to get a down payment, and many of us have exactly the inverse amount in debt?
Oh yeah, and then there's the economic reality of marriage and relationships. It's bad enough for our generation right now when we're the children of what is perhaps the most prosperous generation in American history. Imagine what the next generation is going to have to deal with--the children of the X and Y generations. We're the most debt-ridden generation in history, having children that will only serve to increase out debt load, and usually working such long hours that we can't parent our children adequately and have to spend even more money on childcare that's likely to be low-quality. If you ask me, it's a recipe for American disaster.
Just dealing with one of these issues is enough to give you a headache. Dealing with more than one--say, trying to balance work, school, and a family and the same time.
There are a few subjects I'd like to discuss in slightly more detail, using a few books as my guides.
The first one is Strapped, by Tamara Draut. From the introduction:
Becoming an adult today takes longer, requires taking more risks, and is rife with more stumbling blocks than it was a generation ago. To get a sense of how much longer the traditional path to adulthood takes, we can compare the percentage of young women and young men meeting a traditional definition of adulthood in the years 1960 and 2000: leaving home, finishing school, becoming financially independent, getting married, and having a child. Four decades ago, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men aged 30 had completed all these transitions. In 2000, only 46 percent of women and 31 percent of men had completed all these transitions by age 30.
Now, I've heard a lot of boomers in my time say that our generation is just too lazy, too morally intransigent, or what have you. To every generation, the subsequent generation is the worst ever. Lord knows, I'll probably say that when I'm older. Sometimes, given what I see on TV, I find myself on the verge of saying it now. But see, my parents' generation never had to deal with the stuff I'm going to write about here.
Let's talk about college education. I was one of the ones who got lucky. My father homeschooled me very well at home, and I was able to get through UCLA on full-ride academic scholarships. But for those who didn't, the situation is a different story. Tamara Draut writes that college students today are graduating with close to $20,000 on average in student loan debt. Grad students will be getting their advanced degrees with about $45,000 in debt. And why?
Because tuition is skyrocketing:
Thirty years ago, in 1976-77, the average cost of attending a private college was $12,837 annually, in inflation-adjusted dollars. Today, the average cost of attending a public college is $11,354--which means the burden of affording a state college today is equivalent to that of paying for a prive college in the 1970s.
And what's the current annual average cost of a private college? Try a nice, even $27,000.
Now let's say you're me. I'm considering graduate school in energy and environmental policy, because that's the field I want to work in. How's that going to work out, on average? Well, these days, a B.A. is the new high school diploma. Everybody has one. Time was, a B.A. was your ticket to a good job out of college. Nowadays, that idea is the realm of fantasy. Grad school these days isn't about furthering the depth of your education: it's about vocational requirements.
Prior to the mid-1970s, the master's degree was mainly the province of academia. Most master's degrees were in nonprofessional fields that stresses theory and pure knowledge over practice. The motivation for getting a master's degree wasn't a better job or better money--it was an intellectual pursuit. Not anymore. Most grad students are in school to help advance their careers, not to experience the life of the mind. Today about 85% of all master's degrees are practice-oriented, as opposed to theoretical. Business and educatino are the major dominators in the master's degree craze, each representing abuot 25% of all advanced degrees.
In an analysis of all grad school fields, only one had annual average earnings higher than the average loan debt required for the field. Guess which one that is? Not hard: business school. Of course, you'll have a better shot at going to a good grad school and escaping with less debt if your parents were rich and could set aside a college fund of over $100,000 to pay for it all. And if not, you're just plain out of luck.
So here I am. I have a B.A. in an academic field (Greek and Latin) that I chose not to pursue for grad school. I'd like to get a Masters in a field that interests me right now so I can have a job in my chosen field (environment and politics). But what's the pay looking like?
In 1972, the typical earnings for males 25 to 34 years old wiht a high school diploma was $42,630 (in 2002 dollars). In 2002, the typical earnings for high school grads ha ddropped to $29,647. Typical earnings for young males with a bachelor's degree or higher [that's me!] have also declined, from $52,087 in 1972 to $48,955 in 2002.
So basically, education as a whole is ridiculously expensive, and the jobs you can get with your ridiculously expensive degree pay less than they ever used to--unless you go into business, of course! Ain't being my age grand?
And yeah, how about finding a decent place to live around here? RunnerAAA and I are moving in together in what will likely be a few weeks' time into an apartment close to my work in the Miracle Mile area of Los Angeles. And believe me--after apartment hunting around here, you wouldn't believe how little you get for the money you pay.
Not surprising: it's a nationwide trend. As Tamara writes, between 1995 and 2002, median rents in nearly all the largest metropolitcan areas rose by more than 50 percent. And it's eating up a substantial portion of our paychecks. In 2002, the median percentage of income young adults spent on rent was just over 22 percent, up from 17 percent in 1970.
I have been chided by some for not contemplating purchasing a condo or something. Yeah. Great plan. Anyone have an extra several tens of thousands of dollars lying around that they can afford to give me?
Eventually, I'd like to get married and have a family. Of course, I'll only be able to do that once I can actually afford one. But there's a massive problem with affording one to begin with. I believe it's somewhere in the book Generation Debt by Anya Kamenetz that generation X adults--especially young men--place a much higher emphasis on family than did their baby boomer generation counterparts, who were much more focused on work and making money. It's definitely true that we have more of a community spirit--and I don't think I'm an exception in this regard. The problem as I see it--unless I get incredibly lucky or something strange happens--is that the only way I'll be able to afford to have children at this point is if both of us are working full-time. But the idea of having both of us working full-time and leaving my child(ren) in day-care centers or with nannies is absolutely abhorrent to me. I don't think I'm alone in believing that I should get more time with my children than whatever I happen to be able to squeeze in after work and before they go to bed.
And not to mention, childcare is insanely expensive. In the 1960s, childcare accounted for 1% of the total expenses a family would put into a child until age 18. Now, it accounts for 11%. Please read the chapter in Strapped called "And Baby Makes Broke" for even scarier and more angering stuff.
And this brings me to my last point. Because of the two-income structure that we have where both parents need to be working full-time to support a family in this day and age, we actually have less flexibility as young families to be able to better manage economic crises. Back in previous generations, a family with a non-working parent could get a job to support the family in case the working parent got laid off. But what happens now is that families in our generation count on the incomes of both parents, incur expenses based on what they can afford with both incomes, and then have no backup plan in case of a crisis--especially because our national savings rate is less than zero. This comes from a book called The Two-Income Trap by Elizabeth Warren & Amelia Warren Tyagi, which I just started reading today:
Today's parents are working harder than ever--far harder than their single-income counterparts of a generation ago--holding down full-time paying jobs and still covering all their obligations at home. Yet, paradoxically, without the safety net once provided by the stay-at-home mother, they are more vulnerable to financial disaster. They have little money left to build their own safety nets, and government policies tax most of their efforts to provide for themselves. They are caught: can't afford to work, can't afford to quit, and can't survive if something goes wrong.
Welcome to our generation. I'm not going to go into whom to blame for this. And maybe in a future diary, I'll write about what to do to help set it right.
In the meantime, consider reading the books I've quoted from. Well worth the time you don't have.