So, sometimes when I have a headache, my brain does math at me instead of letting me sleep it off. Today, my brain wanted to talk about inflation, wage stagnation, and the ballooning cost of tuition.
First of all, inflation. Inflation is basically the rate at which the value of currency drops. A slow, steady inflation rate is fairly normal, and nothing to be concerned about by itself, but is important to understand for the rest of the discussion. For the sake of ease of understanding, I want to use nice whole numbers, but I have double-checked my sleepy brain’s calculations, and welcome you to do the same.
In 1970, $1 could buy 6 apples; today $1 can buy 1 apple. This is inflation.
Now, onto wage stagnation. In 1970, minimum wage was $1.60, but for nice round numbers I’ll go with $2. Current minimum wage is $7.25, so I’ll go with $8. Back to our apples - working for 6 hours in 1970 would get you enough money to buy 72 apples; to buy 72 apples today you would have to work 9 hours. Inflation is the value of the dollar going down; wage stagnation means the value of time has gone down.
Finally, tuition. Tuition has increased at roughly 4x the rate of inflation. What does that mean, especially when combined with wage stagnation? Well, in 1970, one semester at a state university cost roughly $100. At $2/hr, this would be 50 hours of work, or roughly two weeks at a standard part time job. Inflation alone would have brought tuition to $600, and 4x that puts us at $2400 (this is actually an underestimate in my experience, but again, nice whole round numbers). So, one semester’s tuition, $2400, at $8/hr, puts us at 300 hours of work, or roughly three months.
Again, that is a state university, not a private institution, and that’s just tuition, not fees, books, or housing.
This is how one generation could work their way through college on minimum wage jobs, and a couple decades later college students are averaging tens of thousands of dollars of debt when they graduate. This has been an episode of things that tick me off.