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My children are in their early twenties and just starting out. Neither one of them studied anything particularly lucrative (Film; Art). They take after their old man that way (Drama).
But when I was starting out, I had little trouble getting a job with a Chicago restaurateur who gave me all the work I wanted tending bar and waiting tables. I did not have to deal with a 29 hour per week limit to avoid Obamacare requirements. I could get 40 hours no problem. After 40 hours I would work off the clock for tips only, which was just fine with me. All in all, I could count on about $700 per week.
My share of the rent in a clean, comfortable apartment in upscale Lincoln Park was $375/mo. Student loans? I carried a grand total of $11,000. Tuition at my high-tone, private, liberal arts alma mater was never more than $9K per year, and I paid a lot of it along the way. (None of this $55K per year nonsense.) My monthly loan payment was $197. Buy health insurance? Are you kidding? I’m 24. Who’s gonna make me buy insurance anyway!
Nowadays, my similarly artsy kids are starting their lives out in Southern California making about the same hourly rate I did 30 years ago–$20/hr. But they can’t get 40+ hours a week from any entry-level employer because of Obamacare, which forces employers to provide health coverage to “full time” employees (a deal-breaking expense). And “full time” is 30 hours per week, not 40. That means precious few entry-level employers provide true, 40-hour, full-time work.
But here’s where it really gets bad: Their rent is three times what I paid, and their apartments and neighborhoods are worse. Their student loan debt is four times what mine was. They are legally obliged to purchase their own health insurance, which is not cheap.
When my kids grumbled to me about this, I put it off as the same kind of gripes I had when I was doing my own struggling artist thing.
Then, as I was fielding these gripes, I had to travel to Southern California to do a jury trial. (Yes, I quit the arts for law school.) During the judge’s voir dire, he asked all the jurors about their living arrangements (Alone? Roommates? Children? etc.)
How’s this for a wake-up? Every twenty-something juror was living with his/her parents. Every one.
Well hey, dummy-daddy, of course, they were. Given the disincentives to employers to provide full-time entry-level work, the magnitude of student debt, and the ridiculous housing costs, living with the folks is the only sure way to stay afloat if you are starting out in Southern California with starting-out skills. Get a second job? Not so fast. Let’s remember the Southern California labor market in 2020 includes about 1 million additional seekers of full-time work who shouldn’t even be there (illegal aliens), so getting even one entry-level job is a struggle. I never had to compete with that.
I knew bad public policies had stuck these kids with excessive student debt, excessive housing costs, no full-time entry-level jobs, and a tight market for part-time entry-level jobs, but watching these young jurors confess to the judge they were living with their parents (and unsuccessfully hiding their embarrassment at it) really brought it home.
So now what happens? My kids look at their social media feeds and here comes ol’ Bernie promising relief: forgiveness of student loan debt, plenty of “affordable” housing, and an increase in pay at their crappy, part-time, entry-level jobs.
Stupid? Of course, it is. But at least it’s something. Because what are the conservative Republican remedies that will make a difference for these kids right now? Ending the government loan program? (Too late for them.) Easing restrictions on housing construction? (How many decades before rents drop?) Abolishing the minimum wage? (Hey! Wrong direction, bub!)
I was thinking of suggesting to my kids that they (like their peers on my jury) move back in for a while. It would give me an opportunity to talk up the virtues of free markets and conservative public policy.
I can see however that they might be too demoralized to listen, that they will keep struggling away, and come November they might, hope-against-hope, vote for Bernie.Published in