I have an idea for helicopter parents. Maybe, if you got serious about forcing the government to raise the minimum wage and dramatically lower the cost of college education, your kids wouldn’t be so goddamned depressed and fearful of adulthood. When I was 19 years old, I had already saved enough money as a bus boy to move to California, get an apartment, and enroll in community college. After I proved myself, my parents helped me out considerably, but I eventually graduated from a four-year college with zero debt and plenty of job prospects. If my parents hadn’t helped me out, the process would have taken longer and I might have had to borrow some money, but I would not have been saddled with tens of thousands of dollars of debt.
Today, the same community college that, in 1989, was charging California residents $5 per credit hour (and non-residents $105 per credit hour) is charging residents $46 per credit hour (and non-residents $315 per credit hour, plus a $46 State Enrollment Fee, plus $239 for Non-Resident Tuition, plus a $30 Capital Outlay Fee).
In 1989, I could do 15 credit hours in a semester for a cost of $1,575 plus books. Today, it would cost me $5,040. That’s almost $7,000 a year more, assuming you don’t take summer courses, which I did.
But what’s the difference in the minimum wage or the wage for food service employees who receive tips?
In 1989, the minimum wage was $3.35 (or $4.24 in 1996 constant dollars) and now it is $7.75 (or $4.87 in 1996 constant dollars). The tipped-employee minimum wage has remained unchanged at $2.13 since it was last bumped up in 1991. For a California resident, the cost of a credit hour is more than nine times what it was, but their minimum wage job pays less than double and amounts to almost the same worth in constant dollars.
We can talk about a sluggish economy or bad parenting habits, but the key problem for kids these days it that low-pay jobs don’t give them the ability to afford to live on their own and college is just way, way, way too expensive. Kids literally cannot become independent of their parents unless they are willing and able to borrow enormous sums of money, which they must then turn around and pay interest on for the next two decades.
The kids don’t have the political sophistication (yet) or the financial pull to do anything about this, but the parents could if they wised up about what’s going down in this country after forty years of conservative politics.
No, the Democrats aren’t coming to the table with perfect solutions, but that’s because the party that forced this mess on America still has too much power to obstruct. And it’s because the Democrats aren’t seeing the votes and the support from the very people who should be pushing them to help. That’s the kids and their parents.