The Worst of Times?

As a rising seventh grader in the summer of 1967 I was invited to lunch at the home of my band teacher. Mr. Abrams lived walking distance from the junior high where he taught and where I would soon attend. The meal was served by his wife, the mother of their three children. She did not work outside the home. I remember the youngest of Mr. Abrams’ three kids as being a few years ahead of me. He played trumpet. Because pretty much everyone in my family is employed as a teacher, I feel confident that the following numbers are “truthful if not factual”: I think Mr. Abrams earned around eight thousand dollars a year—he taught summer school too—and that the fair market value of his four bedroom, three bath home was some $20K. The ratio of the value of his home to his yearly income was 2 ½. I’m a counselor, not a mortgage broker, but it is my understanding that these numbers make good financial sense—that the Abrams family could go on vacation and save for retirement, that they could have a life. Fast forward 45 years. Even with the downturn in the Miami housing market, the fair value of that Coral Gables home is over half a million dollars. And a Dade County Public School teacher earns 40K. Were Mr. Abrams teaching today, he could not afford to live in that house. Even if his wife worked outside the home. Even if all three of his kids worked and contributed their entire earnings to the family coffers. Mr. Abrams can no longer afford to drive by that house never mind live there and make payments. *** So where do teachers live in Miami in 2012? In apartments. With roommates. Far from the expensive neighborhoods in which their schools are located. Or with their parents. Middle school teachers in 2012 certainly don’t live walking distance from their schools in two-thousand square foot homes. *** That same year, 1967, Harvard tuition was $1760. The minimum wage was $1.30. A Harvard undergraduate could work a full time job over the summer and put in 23 hours a week for the rest of the year to cover her tuition. That’s a lot of working hours for a full time student—current thinking is that 10-12 hours of work each week is plenty—but it could be done. Today, Harvard tuition is $37,576 for the year (ignoring another $3K in health services and student services fees which are hardly optional). A student earning the minimum wage of $8.00/hour would have to work 93 hours per week—an untenable schedule for even the most motivated and sleep-deprived young person. In short, college students in my day could finance their educations even at expensive private schools. For our children, the arithmetic no longer works. No matter how hard they work, no matter how motivated they are, the numbers just don’t add up. If our kids are going to attend private college, we, their parents, have to pay. *** Parents have been told for generations, “When your child turns 18, it’s time to kick him out. The only way he will learn independence is if he is forced to live on his own, make his own way, get his own apartment, learn the harsh economic realities of making a budget and living within it. The arithmetic no longer supports this “independence” argument. There are those who argue that the college age children of today are coddled, that their parents pay too much attention to the self-esteem of their kids ignoring an emphasis on “can do.” There are those who snort derisively about giving a ribbon to the kid who finishes eighth in an eight person race. “I pulled myself up by my own boot straps,” these folks say. “The children of today should do the same.” The reality is that these economic times are different from those of a generation ago. For better or worse, children today need our economic support. A case can be made that they need our emotional support as well.

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