The debt the next generation will be paying was not started by our government, but by ourselves

Alice Paul c. 1930s

In her article in the WSJ, Peggy Noonan uses an example that has been kinda turning over in my head ever since I read it early yesterday morning. In it, she quotes Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee that many in the Tea Party crowd are grandmothers and that:

“Women are always focusing on a generation or two down the road. Women make the education and health-care decisions for their families, for their kids, their spouse, their parents. And so they have become more politically involved. They are worried about will people have enough money, how are they going to pay the bills, the tuition, get the kids through school and college.”

Ms. Blackburn suggested, further in the conversation, that government’s reach into the personal lives of families, including new health-care rules and the prospect of higher taxes, plus the rise in public information on how Washington works and what it does, had prompted mothers to rebel.

And that really got me thinking about who these “grandmothers” and women are, the timeline of their lives and the unintended consequences of history.

These women — who are older and are now “livid,” concerned and intuitive — were most likely responsible for inadvertently starting the ball rolling toward our ever-increasing crushing debt load by supporting the most politically and socially active woman’s issue of the time; the Equal Rights Amendment.

Now before you all start in on me for beating up on grandma, just hang with me for a moment. Growing up Catholic and as a kid of a mother forced to go to work second shift to afford us, my formative years were spent at ground zero of this issue. One thing that came out of the ERA was that women were an emerging force in the employment scene. With the political and cultural tides turning the way of equal pay for equal work and looking like the ERA was going to be ratified, companies slowly, reluctantly began paying women more and promoting in an effort to ward off legislation. Women were also becoming more educated and getting better jobs. The country was getting used to the dual income. And that flush of cash was too tempting for corporate America not to scheme a grab.

And grab they did. From 1964-1980, the average house price went up from $13,050 to $68,700 while average income went from $6,000 to $19,500 per person. That calculates to 217% of annual income for a house in 1964 v 352% annual income in 1980. In addition, a car which cost an average of $3,500 in 1964 now cost $7,200 in 1980. In 1964 when most families were single income, they only needed one car. In 1980 when the dual income family had firmly taken root, a second car was necessary. So was out-of-the-home day care. Women had fought the right* to be equal in the workplace, but so too had this fight created a dependence on a dual income for a typical family to afford a home to live in. Women could no longer leave the employment world at will and their men could no longer afford them to.

Life got too expensive to maintain and none of this was due to the Federal government meddling with significant entitlement programs (except Medicare, which every senior in the Tea Party loves and would kill any candidate who takes it away.)

But we really didn’t learn that large social shifts will always be taken advantage of by our free market economy and corporations incessantly hungry for more profit. In this last decade before the Recession, universities were watching the housing market climb up and up and jumped into the fray with their version of the cash grab. They raised their tuitions, knowing full well the middle class would dip into their easy home equity to pay for Johnny and Suzie’s education, regardless of cost. Now, their grandkids are saddled with large bundles of debt nobody is willing to forgive.

And men are losing their jobs at record rates, reducing the dual income family to a minority. And I was left wondering, “Were the grandmothers in Ms. Noonan’s article the same women who foresaw the staggering and unsustainable private debt we are now faced with as they marched for women’s rights back in the early ’70s?” All these women wanted was the right to be treated equally and have the right to do the same job as a man so they could have a higher quality of life. Unfortunately, all corporations saw was an opportunity to grab more disposable income.

I’m finding it hard to believe the average grandma is more “livid” and worried about the US Government going broke from entitlements than they are about their own grandkids being $50,000+ in debt from student loans and not being able to afford a house to live in because homes are priced to a dual-income standard. Maybe I’m missing something.

*I know, the ERA Amendment is still shy of 3 states ratification and died in 1982, but it gets reintroduced every year. Maybe someday. But for purposes of creating a dependence on dual incomes, women have won these rights.

6 Replies to “The debt the next generation will be paying was not started by our government, but by ourselves”

  1. It is sorta like a Freakonomics observation, but I don’t think it is terribly off the mark. It just seems that every time we do something to decrease overall expenses or increase household revenues to take some of the debt or expense pressure off, corporations are right there pushing into the trough. I have not really done an analysis (mostly because I don’t know how) but I would wager that the “tax” pressures we THINK we’re feeling is really not taxes; it is all the other stuff… like phone bills, medical insurance, gas prices…

    I used to be able to have a phone line into my house for $24.00 or something like that. Don’t make LD phone calls, control expenses. Now, MINIMUM $100.00 in cell phone bill FOR ONE DAMN LINE. Cable is the same way. We used to be able to grab stuff out of the air for free.. now, cable bills and they keep ugrading to force us into more expensive services as basic. A modern household has nowhere to really cut and stay minimally functional. Pretty soon books, magazines and newspapers will require e-readers as more just quit printing and go online… frustrating..

  2. Nothing sets me off more than the phone bills! Internet+phone+cell=$350.00 for my house. There are taxes added on. The taxes wouldn’t hit so hard if the base expense wasn’t so silly. Or how about the fact that if you are using analog telephone many companies are still charging for you to NOT have a party line. I told my phone company to put me back on a party line and remove the charge. That lady was a little taken back, lol.

    You know, I spend a fair amount of time trying to defend business, regardless of the size. I’m finding that conversation moving towards how great small business is and how evil (I hate to even consider the word) large companies are.

    I think the problem is that when these companies do get so huge that everyone is just a number and a statistic/probability.

  3. Turd in the punchbowl, here…

    You keep referring to greedy corporations, but unless you consider colleges and universities greedy corporations, then I object. Also, skyrocketing home prices are a function of personal greed and want, not corporate greed. I think about my parent’s shiny, new home in 1964. It had no carpets, no dishwasher, no air conditioning, 1.5 baths, 3 bedrooms and the lights in the small closets were an option. It cost them $18.500. In 2012 dollars, that is $137,147 according to Not a small amount of money.

    I doubt that even Section 8 would consider my childhood home adequate housing in 2012. Yes, corporations designed and manufactured air conditioners and made a pant-load of money off of them, but the people demanded it. Ditto dishwashers. As for cable TV, except for getting internet, you can toss cable and use an antenna. It still works fine (plus it is digital and still free!)

    Cell phones? Corporations spent HUGE amounts of money over 20 years fitting out virtually the entire nation to meet an insatiable need for constant communications by the populace. Are they making a lot of money off of it? You betcha, but their stock price does not reflect undue profits. (If you want to see undue profits, check out Apple’s balance sheet, but I digress.)

    I submit that, excluding illegal collusion between companies, prices are pretty fair. Most all of our mega-expenditures come from our own personal wants and needs. Prices are actually pretty competitive. As an example, once multiple cell carriers got in the market, the prices dropped like a rock (I remember $.49/minute and roaming was $2.00/minute.)

    When government starts picking winners and losers, or when lobbyists can get special legislation that skews the market (hey, it doesn’t hurt to ask, does it?), that is when prices get out of balance.

    Wrapup: Business, left to a pure market, tends to self-level, providing new stuff when needed and removing old stuff when not needed (think buggy whips and rolling pins), all at a price that is acceptable to the market. All we really need is a referee that makes sound judgments based on established rules, not based on ‘fairness’ or ‘feelings’. Fairness and feelings can cause modification of the rules (read: laws) as times and mores change, but should not be injected into the day-to-day play of the game.

  4. I absolutely include colleges and universities in the “greedy corporations” category. They are no longer in the education business. They are in the food, housing and entertainment business. It is all about the money and they expect parents to mortgage their entire lives to pay for little Johnnie and Suzie to attend. I have put two kids through college and each time, the process was the same.. any mob boss would be proud to have the admissions and financial aid people in the family.

    Businesses, left to a pure market, will rape and pillage the resources for their own sake of profit. That is not to say that is a bad thing as that is what shareholders what. But there should be an equally strong counter-weight to that goal. It should be government that represents the rights of people, not the interests of companies. The “pure market” provides its own motivations and enough of it. Smart business can figure out how to make a buck in any environment; lazy companies whine.

    Prices will always push to what the market will bear. Most consumers don’t know they are shackled in debt or how little mobility they really have.. or how much it cost them per hour just to breathe the air in these United States. If their incomes stopped abruptly today, how long would they last? Sadly, too many of us are at or below the edge. While that is good for companies selling crap, it does not create a strong society with deep roots able to weather market ups and downs. The 2007-12 recession showed us that, if nothing else.

    It is not about “fairness.” It is about sustainability. One need look back only as far as 1890 or so to see the effect of the “pure market” on air, water and soil quality or the 1930s to see the effect of unregulated farming on the Great Plains to know that the “pure market” is incredibly selfish and demands immediate gratification.. and more today than it got yesterday. Our primary goal is to “to ensure the survival of our species.” That also includes ensuring the next generation that they will have a place to live that is safe and sustainable. And the next, and the next….

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