There have been a couple of instances lately of Republican politicians remembering the “good old days” that inadvertently make the argument for policy actions today. About a year ago, North Carolina congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) commented,
I went through school, I worked my way through, it took me seven years, I never borrowed a dime of money. He borrowed a little bit because we both were totally on our own when we went to college, totally. […] I have very little tolerance for people who tell me that they graduate with $200,000 of debt or even $80,000 of debt because there’s no reason for that. We live in an opportunity society and people are forgetting that. I remind folks all the time that the Declaration of Independence says “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” You don’t have it dumped in your lap.
Rep. Foxx graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1968. The College Board’s data on college tuition only go back to the 1971/72 school year, but it is clear that college has become a lot less affordable. Tuition and fees at a four year public college are four times what they were forty years ago even after accounting for inflation!
The other instance reflects the debate over the minimum wage after President Obama proposed increasing the federal minimum wage to $9 per hour. Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R) reflected,
What we’re hearing from moms and from school teachers is that there needs to be a lower entry level, so that you can get 16-, 17-, 18-year-olds into the process. Chuck, I remember my first job, when I was working in a retail store, down there, growing up in Laurel, Mississippi. I was making like $2.15 an hour. And I was taught how to responsibly handle those customer interactions. And I appreciated that opportunity.
But as ThinkProgress points out
Blackburn was born in 1952, so she likely took that retail job at some point between 1968 and 1970. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator, the $2.15 an hour Blackburn made then is worth somewhere between $12.72 and $14.18 an hour in today’s dollars, depending on which year she started.
At that time, the minimum wage was $1.60, equivalent to $10.56 in today’s terms
Combining both of these threads, below is a chart of the nominal cost of a public for year college and the annual income of someone working full time (40 hours a week for 52 weeks) at the minimum wage.
And here is a chart of the number of hours one would need to work at minimum wage in order to afford college.
In 1971, you would need to work about 235 hours at minimum wage to afford tuition and fees at a public four-year college, and another 613 hours for room and board. In 2013, you would need to work 1,194 hours for tuition and another 1,270 for room and board. The number of minimum wage hours needed to pay tuition and feeds is over five times what is was forty year ago, and total costs including tuition, fees, room and board is almost three times as expense if terms of hours.