So, I came across an interesting post relating to this picture that’s been going around Facebook alot lately… In case you haven’t seen it, here it is.
The post I found (read it here) talks about how unrealistic the entire premise of the note is. It’s funny, I totally agree with the debunking of this letter. While I agree with a spare few points on the letters, the majority are rather a load of hooey. Certainly Americans (and those around the world) need to learn that we need to work to earn the things we want, not borrow to afford them with no repayment plan.
In addition, it is not possible to live on minimum wage in most of the US. For an excellent look into this, grab a copy of Barbara Ehrenreich’s tome “Nickled and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America”. In this engaging non-fiction work, Barbara moves to three separate areas of the US and tries to make ends meet on minimum wage. Her conclusion in the end is that even though she had significant advantages that most long-term minimum-wage earners don’t (health insurance, computer, car, etc.), she found it impossible to make a living wage at minimum wage.
The funny thing is that the picture is trying to make a point that may resonate with many people, but isn’t particularly valid. So, let me tell you a little about my story…
I also made decent grades in high school (actually rather better than decent). I went to a magnet school for academically gifted students. When I graduated, I applied to a moderately priced in-state public school. I also applied to a high-priced private school. One offered an okay education and one offered an excellent one. After considering my financial means (meaning my Mom’s financial means), I received no aid at the public institution and a combination of scholarships and loans to cover most of the cost of the private school education. Effectively, it would have cost me more to go to the public school… so I chose to pay more over time at a school giving me a better education.
Throughout this college education, I worked no less than 20 hours a week at minimum wage through the work-study program. I also studied and managed to keep a high GPA (not a 3.8, but still). Like the fictional “bootstrap” student above, I tried to find ways to save money. I didn’t eat out, I ate on campus (lived there too, no affordable apartment for me, not affordable enough). In my last 2 years (as a History major mind you) I didn’t buy books (just couldn’t afford them to be honest). I checked them out of area libraries, borrowed them, and relied on exceptional notes and friends who took even better notes than I did. I still graduated with student loans from more than one source (Perkins Loans, Stafford Loans, and a Kiwanis Club loan) in addition to credit card debt (you know from when I DID buy books). So, while this mythical student may have made it, most people just couldn’t.
I wasn’t exceptional in most ways. And you know what, although I paid for my own college education for the most part, I’m not self-made. I went to a magnet school for academically gifted students after going to solid elementary and Junior High Schools. In those places, I had educational opportunities and access to resources that students in other areas didn’t. I was in the gifted program starting in 2nd grade. It provided challenges and expansion of perspective and understanding. But you know what, it’s more than that. MemeBean taught me to love books. We went to the library constantly. And, above the library in our town was the art museum. So, we went and looked at art. I didn’t necessarily “get” it (still don’t if we’re being honest). But, I was exposed to it. I was taught things and given opportunities.
I read a fascinating article that argued that no one is actually self-made. It’s a myth. Everyone who is successful has someone that supports them, teaches them, or just plain believes in them. So, the arrogance of the “bootstrapper” in calling life decisions of others “bad decisions” because they borrow money for college or just make difference choices rubs me the wrong way too. I assume I’m part of the 99%. After all, I’m pretty sure I don’t have one fo the top 1% incomes… I see the handling of the bail-outs as shameful and the large bank and Wall Street CEO actions as prosecutable. But, regardless, less rhetoric and more searching for real solutions would go a long, long way.
After all, we all make life choices and equating going to college with living large is ridiculous. I graduated from college with mountains of debt. Within 10 years, I had paid it off. My college degree definitely enhanced my earnings, but it did something much, much more important than that. Attaining my college degree taught me to work hard, to live frugally, and to value opportunities. No one gave me opportunities, I had to look, to find them, and to reach for them. But I had a whole cast of people supporting me, helping me, guiding me, and believing in me. And that is the most valuable gift we can give our kids. And it behooves us to remember… not everyone has that.