Sunday, July 14, 2013

Why Don't You Just Go to School and Get a Better Job?

Today is Sunday, July 14, 2013. 

Cartoon: I sure could use a raise.  I know!  I'll go to school, get more training and experience... work harder, become more productive, make myself more valuable!  Nyaaaah.  (Rings a doorbell holding a "Living Wage Petition".) 

This cartoon is incredibly unfair because it portrays minimum wage workers as lazy people who are unwilling to do what it takes to get a better-paying job. There's a simple reason why many people don't enroll in a college or trade school: It's too expensive.  Here's why.

Image Credit: DailyFinance
If you are in your 50s or 60s and haven't sent your kids to college or vocational school, you may be surprised to hear that in the past 30 years, college tuition has increased 1,120 percent!  This means that tuition nowadays is over 10 times what it was 30 years ago.  And that's an average figure.  In 1967, the cost of attending Yale University was $1,950.  Now it costs at least $38,300, considerably more than 10 times the 1967 figure.  Tuition itself isn't the only cost.  There's the cost of books, as well.  During the 2010-2011 school year, college students paid an average of $1,000 just for books!  Nowadays, students rent textbooks, buy used texts, or download eTextbooks. 

By contrast, healthcare costs, which are commonly described as "skyrocketing," have only gone up 600 percent.  The cost of housing has gone up 375 percent.  The consumer price index (think of goods such as clothing, household needs, cars, and services from a barber or hairdresser, auto mechanic, etc.) has gone up 275 percent.  The cost of food has gone up 220 percent.

What about trade school?  An article in eHow says that DeVry University, a well known school that has 95 physical locations across the United States and which also offers online courses, has programs that require anything from 65 to 124 credit hours. (One class is typically 2, 3 or 4 credits, based on how often it meets weekly. 1 credit hour typically means you spend one hour a week in class.  This does not count the time you are supposed to spend studying between class meetings.)  If you live in California, one credit will cost you $575, but if you are enrolled full-time for 12 or more credit hours per semester, that figure can go down to $345. Let's do the math: 12 hours at $345 = $4140.  How are you going to pay for that?  Get a loan!

College loan debt has now outpaced car loans and credit card debt as the largest source of personal debt.  It has been estimated that Americans owe more than $1 trillion in college debt.  One in five families is currently paying off tuition debt.  (This typically takes many years.  I was in my 30s before I had my bachelor's degree paid for.)  The average university student is in debt to the tune of $27,500 by the time he or she graduates.  Rising student loan interest rates are not helping matters. 

In addition, getting a degree or certification in a job skill is not a guarantee that a graduate will find a job.  Many technical school and university graduates are still working for minimum wage or slightly above, while they search for a suitable job that fits their qualifications.  Although employment is on the upswing in this country, it's still hard for people to find a job, and many people end up waiting four or five years to find a job that they trained for.

Minimum-wage workers have neither the time nor the money to attend school, so unless they can get a scholarship or land a Pell Grant, they typically end up stuck in the minimum-wage grind.  

Make no mistake about it:  We make it damn hard for our own citizens to earn qualifications to make a decent living in this country.  We are shooting ourselves in the foot.  Why?  :-(

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