Young Americans get the shaft

Young Americans get the shaft from their elders, writes Matt Miller of the Center for American Progress in  in the Washington Post. Neither party will do anything about it.

As many as 100 million Americans live in households today that are earning less than their parents did at a similar age.

. . . In 1980, a year at a public college cost about 12 percent of median family income; the maximum Pell grant covered 70 percent of that. Today, public colleges cost a staggering 26 percent of family income each year, and Pell grants cover at most a third.

. . . The job market for young people is a disaster, the toll of a burst financial and housing bubble that both parties let fester. The crisis has reached the point where years of unpaid labor (in the form of internships) have become a way of life for millions of Americans in their 20s.

Our K-12 schools have slid from the best in the world to mediocre under both Republican and Democratic presidents and governors. That’s largely because for decades we’ve embraced a bipartisan policy of recruiting middling students to become teachers.

Politicians from both parties “have pre-committed virtually all public resources to seniors,” Miller writes.  “Want to help a poor child or fix a bridge? Sorry, kids, the till is empty.”

The generational war is raging and the young are losing, writes Rick Hess, who thinks it’s time for baby boomers to “step up.”  Of course, many boomers are paying their children’s high college costs.

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  1. Mark Roulo says:

    Our K-12 schools have slid from the best in the world to mediocre…

    Matt Miller, 2012 , Washington Post Editorial

    Or … maybe not …

    The schools have been overcrowded for years, but children still study in shacks and shifts and hallways and jerry-built classrooms.

    Most teachers are grossly underpaid (some are not worth what they get). A great many, who know their jobs well and practice them with devotion, have to work without help, understanding or proper tools.

    In their eagerness to be all things to all children, schools have gone wild with elective courses. They build up the bodies with in-school lunches and let the minds shift for themselves.

    Where there are young minds of promise, there are rarely the means to advance them. The nation’s stupid children get far better care than the bright. The geniuses of the next decades are even now being allowed to slip back into mediocrity.

    There is no general agreement on what the schools should teach. A quarter century has been wasted with the squabbling over whether to make a child well adjusted or teach him something.

    Most appalling, the standards of education are shockingly low.

    Life Magazine, March 24, 1958

    We didn’t have any way to know if our K-12 schools were the “best in the world” in the 1950s because no one measured. In the 1960s, when international measurement started, the US was not the “best in the world.” Clearly, in 1958, the folks putting out Life didn’t think that US K-12 education was the best in the world. It may never have been.

    • And it’s still true that disproportionate resources are directed to the bottom end of the curve (undoubtedly much more so, since spec ed and IDEA) than to the top – because, you know “those kids will do fine, anyway”. I’ve heard that since before 1958. What might they do if they’re really challenged?

    • Maybe the quality of our K-12 education has always been excellent, and it’s Americans who are becoming genetically inferior? Generations of stupid people having 5+ kids each, while smart people (people with college educations, good jobs, etc.) keep deciding to have few – or increasingly no – kids. Is ‘Idiocracy’ in our future?

  2. I posted too soon. In 1958, many very bright women went into teaching because it was one of the few acceptable career options. In the decades since the early 70s, such women have had much wider options and have been correspondingly less likely to choose teaching, particularly at the ES level.

  3. Old or young, the bottom 80% of Americans own only 7% of the nation’s wealth. You could strip the elderly members of that bottom 80% of everything they own and it still wouldn’t be enough to solve our education problems. It would only be a fraction of that already low 7%. Scapegoating the elderly won’t work.

    • Maybe it’s because the bottom 80% of Americans are just plain stupid? It’s like my father used to tell me, “80% of the world’s population doesn’t care, never has, and never will. They don’t care about education, don’t care about making the world a better place, don’t have any curiosity about the world around them. As long as they have their bread and circuses, they’re happy. It’s the other 20% of the world’s population that has always kept the world running, and kept working hard to make the world a better place. It’s always been that way, and it always will be.”

      • The bottom 80% of Americans include the police officer who is willing to take a bullet to keep you safe, the firefighters who rushed into the World Trade Center, and the servicemen who patrol the mountains of Afghanistan. Walk into a nursing home, and you will see people who treat the sick and aged with tenderness and humanity. You might want to let your father know that this is what the 80% of Americans who struggle to live on a mere 7% of our nation’s wealth look like.

        • Roger Sweeny says:


          In most places, police and fire are in the upper 20%.

          People don’t live on wealth. They live on income. The top 20% have nowhere near 93% of yearly income.

          • Wrong again. I have a step brother who is a police officer so I know what they make. He has a friend who actually took a bullet in the line of duty and spent the rest of his life in ill health and in real financial difficulty. I have no patience people who denigrate those who sacrifice so much to keep us safe.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            I do not denigrate anyone. I am sorry for what happened to your step brother’s friend and wish him well. However, I stand by my assertion that in most places, when you consider total compensation (salary, insurance, pension, etc.), police and fire are in the upper 20%.

  4. We’re not earning less than my parents, but our purchasing power is less.

    When my dad finished his MBA in 1976, he made the equivalent of $109lk in today’s dollars, and he was able to purchase a home in a middle-class suburb of San Jose for the equivalent of $222k. In 2006, when my DH got his MBA, he made a somewhat higher salary, but that same house cost >$700k. Even after the recent decline in the housing market, the house is still >$500k.

    My dad also had a family health insurance policy completely paid for by his employer. No premiums, deductibles, cost-shares, co-pays, etc. We’re paying hundreds of dollars per month in premiums, plus thousands per year in out-of-pocket expenses.

    Just looking at gross salary, we’re better off than my parents. But most of that is going to pay for the much higher housing and healthcare costs.

    • Excellent point. My father was able to buy a home and three nice autos (a car and two trucks) for $40,000 a year in the 1970’s / 1980’s. Today, my wife and I earn $85,000 a year together, and we can barely afford to rent a duplex and pay for two (crappy) cars… And that’s with good credit!

    • When I was growing up in the 50s-60s, health insurance meant a major medical policy which covered only major illnesses and injuries. Visits to doctor’s offices, outpatient x-rays, ECGs, medications etc. were paid directly by the patient. I never heard of anyone who had a policy which covered more than that. In 1976, was that still the case?

      Obviously, technological advances and new medications have changed the equation, such that more diseases can be treated successfully.

      • Chartermom says:

        When I first started to work in the eary 80’s, I worked for a company that was known for having one of the very best medical plans in the country. But I paid for things like physicals and birth control pills. I can’t remember if other prescriptions were covered as I really didn’t need them. What I do remember is that I paid the doctor and then I submitted my own forms for reimbursement and I believe that until I crossed some threshold I only received 80% reimbursement. Not only was I paying for my own preventative, I was also investing the time to submit for my own reimbursements. Now the doctor pays staff to do that — adding to my bill and therefore adding to the cost of my health insurance.

        I also have what I call the tale of two heart attacks. My grandfather had one in the early 80’s, went into the hospital for three days and had another one and died. No more medical costs for him. Fast forward 22 years and my mother had a heart attack. Went into the hospital, had a bypass operation, spent over a week in the hospital, then received visiting nurse care for a couple of weeks, rehab, and for the past ten years has had regular doctor visits, lab tests, medications, etc. And in the process of living she has also had rotator cuff surgery (probably due to all the swimming she does), had surgery and treatment for an abscess that occurred where they took the vein from her thigh for the bypass and treatment for other miscellaneous minor illnesses. But she’s also babysat grandchildren, volunteered at church, participated in “helping hands” activities and added other value to her family and community.

        I also know two relatively young people (one thirty-something and one teen) who are alive today because of bone marrow transplants. They continue to have ongoing health issues but are alive. So are today’s young worse off because their healthcare bills are higher or better off because there is more healthcare available to them?

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    WRT past prosperity vs. today’s penury: Various folks have claimed that, in the Fifties, a single income would support a family in reasonable circs because taxes were so low.
    I recall those days and it seemed that the jobs currently held mostly by women–retail, clerical, etc–were held by women then, only not so young. Unless unmarried. Which seems to support the low-tax contention. While the kids were young, mom didn’t work. Also, reasonable circs were defined by people who grew up in the Depression, survived the war and thought a 1200 square foot house on a small lot infinitely better than the previous newly-married housing–the upstairs room in a parent’s home. Similar expectations applied to other factors of life.
    Taxes are higher, anyway, so what are we getting for them? Well, the young family isn’t getting much for them except that their grandparents have Medicare.
    So, yeah, the younger folks may be getting hosed, except when the older generation shuffles off, there may be more left to the kids, because the government paid for various expensive expenses. Might even be one-for-one.
    Caveat, however. What we get today for various prices is not what we used to get.
    Cars used to need a tune-up every six thousand miles. They wore out in three or four years. The road today does not show any similar number of vehicles running along held together by Bondo and duct tape. They are immensely safer. They get twice the mileage. What would it have cost fifty years ago to get the sound reproduction abilities in a CD player, even if we didn’t allow for portability issues?

    • While taxes were low in the year 1950, for most of the decade of the 1950’s taxes were higher than they are today. This is especially true for those in the top tax bracket who had a top rate of 91%.. Even in the year 1950, corporations paid 3X the taxes they pay now.

      • Mark Roulo says:

        Maximum federal income tax *rates* were higher, but federal personal income taxes plus federal “social insurance” (Social Security, I think?) taxes collected as a percentage of GDP were lower in 1950 than today.

        Federal personal income taxes + SI

        2011: 7.3 + 5.5 = 12.8
        1950: 5.8 + 1.6 = 7.4

        Federal corporate taxes collected were higher in 1950 than today (as a percentage of GDP).

        But … in 1950, US government spending (state+local+federal) was about 24% of GDP. In 2011, it will be about 40%.

        It is important to not mix up maximum rates with actual dollars collected 🙂

        Federal Taxes as Percent of GDP:

        Federal Spending:

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    Yeah, but the thrust of the discussion was about individual families not in the top brackets.
    Speaking of 91%, that means it costs nine cents on the dollar to go John Galt some time in the fall of the year. Wonder if many did. Actually, I don’t wonder.