A Prophet In His Own Land

There are times when it’s better for the kids to hear it from another adult since repeated commentary in the household smacks of the prophet in his own land deal, just more nonsense spewing out of the old man’s mouth.  Today was one of those rare occasions when one of the kids got to hear it full bore from another parent, even if that kid was Eldest, the college student who actually gets it.

She’s home on summer break and joined me at the grocery store.  Our cashier at the checkout line was a mother of two that had, at one time, gone to our church.  Her kids are of similar ages to Eldest and Middle and as we transacted business, I inquired as to their whereabouts.  The discussion was fascinating because it encapsulated both what I’ve been saying to my kids for years as well as providing a snapshot of larger economic issues.  Neither of her kids are now in school, although her eldest had spent a year in college before transferring elsewhere and ultimately dropping out.  There was significant discord in her household as she and her husband refused to take out a PLUS loan or co-sign for any loans that he might take on himself, leading him to withdraw for now.  It wasn’t that they didn’t want to; but both Mom and Dad recognized that the old college model – the best seven years of my life – are gone.  The boy wasn’t deadly serious about it and uncertain as to what he wanted; topping it off was that Dad had lost his own job and their own finances were shaky although they at least owned their home free and clear.  The unhappy conclusion for their Eldest was that he would find a job and pay off his existing student debt while he figured out his next step.  The cashier’s daughter is graduating in a week but has decided, despite straight A’s and a stellar athletic stint, that she’d rather work for now while she figured out her next steps.

What came through in the conversation, as Eldest listened, were several points.  First, that there really is a shortage of livable wage jobs out there for young adults as this woman’s kids are struggling to find adequate employment.  Second, that the student loans really are a deadweight on household formation, a cornerstone of viable economic growth; she commented that her kids, and others that she knew, were having difficulty pulling together the down payment for a used car, let alone for a house.  This is borne out by the recent Zerohedge/Pew Research article showing that the average net worth of a college graduate with student debt is a full 20% less than an unindebted high school graduate of the same age.  As she pointed out to Eldest, her wish – and mine as well – was that the adult kids would come for Sunday dinner and visits, not every breakfast without fail.  My contribution to the conversation was the third point, one that Eldest has heard me make before:  if an average young person’s lifespan is expected to surpass 80 years, does it make sense to take on the debt now instead of growing a bit and letting the post-high school smoke clear?  Make sure that there’s a plan for college, otherwise take some time to get your life in order before incurring the cost.

Eldest clearly wants to be out in the great wide world on her own.  She’s smart and in the past several weeks that she’s been home, I’ve noted thought processes that were dormant in earlier years and some of these go to standing on her own two feet.  She didn’t say much in the conversation with the cashier acquaintance but I could tell that the persistent home meme about student debt had paid off, leaving her with the prospect of doing what she wants when college is through.  Setting up her own place and moving out into the great wide world.

Now I have to keep talking to her younger siblings. 


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