Are People Poorer Today?

I was talking with a Walmart checker the other day, talking about Christmas gifts for children.  She was probably about 45, and told me she was a single mother.  She made the comment “People today have to work twice as many hours as your generation, and we will never be as well off as you when we get to your age.”

I thought about that a little, and wondered what is different now.  Our generation bettered ourselves by trying to move up in the world of work.  We either got into programs that allowed us to move up, gained a skill, went to college or went to vocational school.  The emphasis was on moving up–at least for most of us in the middle class.  The middle class also tended to be married, which was a big economic advantage.  The idea of being a single mother and still being a Walmart checker in our 40s just didn’t occur to those in the middle class.

The other big difference, however, is the cost of college.  When I was in college, a semester’s education was worth about a month’s rent for an apartment.  We could usually work extra hours and save up for our tuition each semester, even if it meant graduating in 5 or 6 years instead of four.  We did graduate without debt.  The cost of college today has increased so exponentially as to be out of reach of many.  Something has to be done to make it affordable.  Having the government pay won’t stop the inflation, which is just unbelievable.  Government may provide free education, but like Europe, it will limit the number who can go to college, and things won’t be any better for the person who is spending a career in low wage jobs.

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