Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I have a lovely niece, Rosalie, from Boston. She flew out to Wisconsin and Illinois for a few college visits, squired about by her crusty uncle.

She's beginning her senior year in September.

We had an itinerary that included Loyola, Northwestern and Lake Forest, the three of them laid out in a straight(ish) line along the Lake Michigan shore. Loyola was the first shock: $27 thousand for tuition, and another $9 thousand for room and board. That's bare bones. No bookstore, no travel, no cappuccino at Starbucks.

Whew. My whole education in the the early 60s totted up to the grand total of $1850./Yr. That was $7,400 for the sheepskin, including three roundtrips from Cleveland to Austin, Texas. These days it's hard to get out of the bookstore for eighteen fifty.

On the other hand....I worked for $1.375/hr in the A&P the two years before college--a job that gave me the honor of being a member of a union. I liked being in the RCIA (Retail Clerks International Association); our negotiators drew a line after my first year--no more increments discussed in terms of a dime, we were negotiating increases in eighths of a dollar. We settled a contract for dollar thirty-seven and a half, per hour; the company got what they wanted on work rules. Next time the contract expired, we shot for another eighth--back to round numbers at a buck fifty.

The point of this is to compare--then and now--the relative balance between wages and the cost of education: My four years of working paper routes, right up to my sixteenth birthday, earned me my private high school tuition ($135./yr), plus spending money and still left $600 savings in the parish credit union. The two years(actually 21 months) at the A&P, earned $1980. [How do I know? you ask. Everyone in entitled to get wage and SS contribution information from the Social Security Administration. If you're not getting this annually by mail from Social Security, request it now]

The upshot was that I was able, out of my own savings, to pay cash for most of my first two years of college. I was gonna be about eight hundred short each of the last two years. That was not impossible to handle. Parents to the rescue. And a loan from the parish credit union was there for the taking. Hell, I was good for it; they'd known me since I opened an account at age 11.

Getting a baccalaureate today involves high finance, big debts. Ratios of typical teen- and college-age wages(assuming 16 hrs a week) and cost of education are getting shockingly out of phase. For me in 1961 it was $22/wk--take-home wages and $1850/yr--cost of college.

Today a grocery clerk (comparable to my good union wage, for 16 hours) might take home $148/wk, while the cost of a year of comparable education (I checked the web page of my alma mater) is $29,000/yr including tuition, R&B, books and travel from the midwest to central Texas.

Wages have increased over the years such that a high school-age grocery clerk makes about 6.6 times as much as the same worker did in 1961 while education costs have multiplied by a factor of 15.6. It is now nigh impossible for a working class kid to put him/herself through college, in a typical four year stint, without shouldering a crushing load of debt.

I hope Rosalie gets some good scholarships. She's earned it: hard-working and--as her dad would put it-- wicked smaht.

But, whatever the assistance, it'll involve being in the hole--deep in a hole--at graduation time.

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Of the biblical allotment of three score and ten I have lived only three of them more than a bicycle ride from one of the Great Lakes. I grew up ten blocks from Lake Erie in the (once Irish/Italian ghetto, now newly-hip) "Near West Side" of Cleveland. I can still cycle to the Milwaukee lakefront in an hour and a half; but, a round-trip has always been more than I would (noror ever did) attempt. -0- I'm a "...somewhat combative pacifist and fairly cooperative anarchist," after the example of Grace Paley (1922-2007). -0- I'm always cheerful when I pay my taxes (having refused--when necessary--to pay that portion of them dedicated to war). -0- And I always, always vote.