Friday, 06 January 2012
A memoir has to begin with the birth of the person, and this memoir begins in 1966 when a baby boy was surgically removed from his mother's womb. Something about a bone that wouldn't get out of the way. When he got older, the boy always suspected he grabbed onto the nearest bone and held on for dear life, knowing how fucked up it was out there and that life wouldn't get any better than it was right now. That's what the Garden of Eden story, the Fall of Man story, really refers to - child birth. You're chilling in that warm, nurturing place, getting free food, and nothing to worry about, no cares, then you reach a certain level of development, where you become conscious of more things, and suddenly WHAM, those walls contract and shove you right out of there into the cold, cruel world. No wonder newborn infants cry. "Ah, FUCK!" is what they're saying. Perhaps that is why the boy hates doctors.
The boy was born 9 months after his parents' marriage, a marriage between a good Italian Catholic man and a good German-Irish Catholic woman. The man and woman were 9 years apart in age and came from different cultural classes. His family was disappointed in him for marrying a non-Italian, and her family thought she married below her station. The little boy was sensitive and felt tensions within the marriage. He never felt accepted by either side of the family. Ever.
The year 1966 was one of prosperity, but with the seeds of future issues being sown. Americans were becoming concerned with inflation. From 1960-64 inflation puttered along at a mere 1.2%. No problem. In 1965 it nudged up to 2%. Some people started to get concerned. But in 1966 inflation jumped to 3.3%. Public opinion polls showed that a large number of Americans considered inflation the number one concern facing the nation. The Republicans, the party out of power in 1966, championed the issue.
The rising prices were connected to the need to finance the war in Vietnam. The year 1966 was the year of massive escalation of that war, and of the protests against it. By the end of the year, 500,000 American troops were futilely patrolling the jungles of the far-off strip of land. Unlike the Army that fought in Iraq forty years later, the United States Army in Vietnam was a drafted army. Any young American could be pulled against his will out of his life in America and dumped into the jungles of Vietnam. It made the war of immediate concern to almost every family in the country. In 1966, draft deferment for college attendance was first instituted. It gave college enrollment a boost as strong as the GI Bill immediately after World War II. Those who could afford it went to college and stayed there as long as they could. Those who could not got drafted.
Some statistics that always to me illustrated the difference between the world my parents grew up in and the world I have been forced to navigate:
In 1966, the median household income of an American family was $7400 in 1966 dollars. That was a 7% increase over the year before.
The median price of a NEW HOME was $21,000.
The MSRP of the 1966 Mustang, one of the hottest cars of the year, was $2416.
It took less than 3 years of income to pay off a home. A guy could work (still most families had one wage earner, the man) four months for that Mustang.
In 2010, the median household income of an American family was $49,400 in 2010 dollars. That was with most families having two wage earners.
The median price of a new home was $271,600.
The MSRP of the 2011 Mustang was $22,145.
In 2010, it took over 5 years of income to pay off a home. A guy or gal would have to work almost 6 months for that Mustang.
What does that mean? A lot more debt.
Let's leave health care for another entry. But let's add in one other crucial element: EDUCATION. How has the cost of college changed since 1966?
Tuition has increased by an AVERAGE of 8% PER YEAR. That means it doubles every 9 years. The cost of college has gone up by around TWICE the general inflation rate almost every year since 1958. In 2005, the difference between the median family income of entering college freshman and the median family income of the country as a whole was almost a THIRD higher than it was in 1966. And the rate of increase goes up every year. What does that mean? It means that college is becoming increasingly something only the upper classes get to enjoy. It means the average American is being left behind. What else does it mean?
A lot more debt.
Complete analysis of this issue is also for a later entry, but for now, let me just add these statistics to illustrate the phenomenon. I could not easily find average tuition costs for 1966, but I did find the University of Pennsylvania's historic costs. They publish it in a nice chart. So, I could compare the costs of attending the University of Pennsylvania in 1966 with the costs in 2010.
In 1966, the costs were:
Tuition: $1770, or around 22% of the median family income that year.
General fees: $180
Room AND BOARD: $1000
So, a family would pay UPenn $2950 for a year to send their child to undergraduate studies there. Not much more than that Mustang, and affordable for pretty much any family with a full-time wage earner.
In 2010, the costs were:
Tuition: $36,208 (over TWENTY TIMES the 1966 cost), or around 72% of the median family income.
General Fees: $3300 (almost 20x the 1966 fees), PLUS additional a technology fee of $646 and a recreation fee of $360.
Room: $7248. Notice, that is not for room and board. Board is separate:
The College Meal Plan: $4182
Room and board at UPenn is over 11 times the 1966 cost.
So, in 2010, a family would pay UPenn $51,944 for a year to send their child to undergraduate studies there. Over twice the cost of the 2011 Mustang, and more than a year's income.
Life's gotten a lot harder. It is not fair for our parents to look at us and be disappointed that we haven't bought big houses like they did, and sent our kids to college like they did, and built a nice portfolio and kept our debt down like they did. The BASIC COSTS OF LIFE AND GETTING AHEAD have far outpaced income. They had a lot more money relative to their basic needs than we do. We're also not going to be able to retire like they did.
As much tougher as life has gotten for those of us born in 1966, it's even worse for someone born in 1989, and tougher still for a kid born in 2011.
Some 1966 factoids of significance:
In 1966, Ronald Reagan entered politics by becoming the Governor of California.
The Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury met for the first time in CENTURIES.
Chairman Mao kicked off his Cultural Revolution in China.
The MINISKIRT WAS BORN! This was the highlight of the year!
And finally, the first Super Bowl was played.