By Dave Anderson:
The summer of 1998 was a great time for me. I had just graduated high school, I was in great shape as I was still lifting five days a week and swimming two or three miles a day, I had a car that (usually) got me from Point A to Point B, my friends and I had very reliably access to affordable and good beer, and chasing girls was almost always fun no matter the result.
I also had some serious cash in my pocket as I was working for the fourth year for my city. That year, I had been promoted to water safety instructor/riverfront lifeguard. My base pay was $12.00 an hour, and I could usually count on at least a couple of hours of overtime each week as we were short staffed because any kid with a pulse could find an above minimal wage job then.
Most of my check was going into the bank as I was preparing to go to an elite university where the annual cost of attendance (tuition, room and board) was roughly the expected first year salary of a humanities' student. But even with a 70% savings rate, I had a blast that summer. My 1981 Toyota Tercel's tank could be filled for an hour of take home pay
Now, I am the referee coordinator for my school district's recreational soccer league. I have spent most of the past week talking to my teenage referees because I need to start making the spring schedule. I also want to push several of the better kids into doing medium level competitive games as it is an appropriate challenge and those games pay better at roughy $20/hour.
Older teens have it rough today.
One of the kids I spoke with was interested as he is a smart kid but has not been able to find a job that pays above minimal wage for the past six months. Filling the tank to his 1994 Mazda Protege will cost him at least two soccer games, perhaps a touch more if he does not have any grocery store loyalty/affinity points lined up. He just got accepted to the same university I did. Today, that university charges its freshman roughly the expected starting salary of a computer programmer with a top-3 program BS in CS. He's hoping to make enough money between March 10 (the start of the preseason) and freshman orientation to pay his car and health insurance and then eke out a living on work study and refereeing the fall season to eat for the rest of the year.
I'm sure he'll do fine. He is a very smart kid with a good family able to provide a safety net, and he has both the hard skills and the softer (and far more valuable) people skills to do well for himself. But that conversation brought to mind this recent post by Ian Welsh on the economic trends of the next couple of years irregardless of who wins in November:
What has happened is that the general circle of prosperity has been reduced. Less people now live in the �good� US economy. When they drop out of that economy they also use a lot less oil and gas, and even electricity.
I'm just old enough that the cost of entry into the "good" US economy was not too high for most of my high school graduating class. Tuition was rising but enough financial aid was actually grants or cheap ass fixed rate consolidation loans that college is not a complete backbreaker. Gasoline was cheap enough that it did not constrain too many actions. Economic life has not been golden for my high school cohort as we got out of college during the job-loss recovery of 2002-2003 and many of us spun our heels in several McJobs until something that vaguely resembles a career could be built. And by now, most of the kids who did not attend or complete college have had enough time in their fields to actually be worth hiring due to their learning by doing as well as tacit knowledge.
My brother is five years younger than me. His cohort graduated high school in 2003/2004 and college just as the economy imploded from the housing bubble and Wall Street looting via the big shitpile. Housing is too expensive anywhere the gas costs won't kill you, and student loan debt skyrocketed in just five years.
Today's high school seniors are looking at educational bills that are ridiculous but are neccessary in order to buy the lottery ticket that might promise entry into the "good life" where even the good life means more of a paycheck goes into quasi-fixed energy costs because there is almost no place where the gasoline/time versus density trade-off favors density too strongly. Even after they take on massive debts to get an education and probably another year or two of working/interning at subsistence wages to gain experience, there still are not jobs available for them that utilize their training. They'll be competing for one more McJob against people who are more desperate (as they have kids/a mortage/no more student loan deferrements left) and have five years of similar McJob experience.
The young referee who wants to do more and better games will probably scratch off an entry ticket, but more of his classmates won't. And that trend will continue.