Dear Straight Talk: My boss keeps telling me young people have it easy today. But I’ve worked 40 hours a week at $12 an hour for eight months and have been unsuccessful at saving money for college. I ride a bicycle six miles to work, do not own a car, and share a house with four roommates. I cook and am careful with spending, yet I still cannot save. Am I doing something wrong, or is my boss out to lunch? — Almost 20, on my own in Santa Cruz
Justin, 26, Redding: I live rent-free with my parents and work 30-40 hours a week making $20 an hour. But with full-time college costs, I barely break even. I haven’t bought an article of clothing in over a year, haven’t eaten out in months, and am too broke to ask a girl out for fear of having to pay her half. Gas is expensive, food is expensive, entertainment (of any kind) is expensive. I’ve given up trying to pay off my maxed-out credit card until I graduate.
Greg, 21, Los Angeles: I’m on my own, too. I commute on a bicycle, make $12 an hour, and have three roommates. I attended college last semester, but the money didn’t stretch and I had to stop. Next fall, I plan to go again, using loans. Cost-to-income is outrageous. I even sold plasma twice a week to help cover food. But after six weeks, I was seriously run down. Some people trim bud seasonally. A friend made $3,000 in two weeks — but illegally and under armed guard. Not a great solution either. Short answer: Yes, your boss is out to lunch.
Brandon, 21, Mapleton, Maine: California is wicked expensive. I helped a friend find a safe, secure apartment in Norco — at $2,000 a month! I’d commute from Mexico before paying that! Here, in rural Maine, my girlfriend and I pay $550 a month (total) for our two-bedroom apartment (including utilities). The community college costs only $1,100 per 12-credit semester. I work and go to school quite comfortably, affording “necessities” like fast Internet. I don’t have a car, but my girlfriend does, and I’m saving for one. I can’t agree that young people have it harder.
Lennon, 26, Los Angeles: It’s pretty rough. I’m a college graduate who landed what’s considered a “good” job. My girlfriend has a better job, yet we are far from being able to support a child or family. With the things needed to be competitive (smart phone, Internet, computer, car), every month, after expenses, I’m left with about $300. Emergency fund? That’s it. I do save 10 percent for the future, and, luckily, have no debt. Many graduates owe $25,000-plus in student loans. Most young people getting traction have help from their families.
Dear “Almost 20” in Santa Cruz: Your boss is misinformed. For the ratio between wages and cost of living to be equivalent to, say, 1968 — minimum wage would need to be $10.50 an hour, not $7.25. You are trying to launch on 30 percent less “wallet fuel” than your parent’s generation — and they had a car, not a bicycle. And that’s just the average. Raise that number for living in California where the cost of living is higher. Then raise it again for college, which has shot up 15 percent in the last two years. Your Australian bros have a minimum wage more than double ours — about $16 an hour. That’s closer to what you need.
To Our Older Readers: The myth that young people “have it easier” abounds. Many are trying to launch without family help. If you know such young people, consider ways to help them gain traction. Your generosity is good for them, you, and the economy. — Lauren
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