Persephone Takes On “We Are The 53%”

This whole “We are the 53%” nonsense is getting out of hand. Confused Americans holding signs over their faces who used to occupy Erick Erickson’s tumblr have made their way onto the Facebook pages of conservative people I know and love. They’re camping out on newsfeeds everywhere, just waiting to shock anyone who unwittingly signs on to Facebook to change their status. Public enemy #1 (aka Sally) is someone I’m sure you’re familiar with. Here’s their bio:

“I am a college senior, about to graduate completely debt free. I pay for all of my living expenses by working 30+ hrs a week making barely above minimum wage. I chose a modertely priced, in-state public university & started saving $ for school at age 17. I got decent grades in high school & received 2 scholarships which cover 90% of my tuition. I currently have a 3.8 GPA. I live comfortable in a cheap apt, knowing I can’t have everything I want. I don’t eat out every day, or even once a month. I have no credit card, new car, iPad, or smart phone–and I’m perfectly OK with that. If I did have debt, I would not blame Wall St. or the government for my own bad decisions. I live below by means to continue saving for the future. I expect nothing to be handed to me, and will continue to work my @$$ off for everything I have. That’s how it’s supposed to work. I am NOT the 99%, and whether or not you are is YOUR decision.”

Do you hear that sound? That’s my blood boiling. Buster Blonde, a blogger over at Persephone Magazine, got angry too. She put her rage to work by researching the claims made in the photo to test their probability. Using data from Seattle, her city, she calculated the costs of 4 years of school and compared them to the earnings from 4 years of minimum wage work.

Income from working 30 hours a week: $45,891
College tuition: $42,296 without scholarship/ $4,230 with 90% scholarship

Rent: $16,524
Utilities: $1,800
Cell phone: $2,160
Bus Pass: $912
Food: $7,200
Books: $4,140
Health Insurance: $6,024
Total: $81,056 without scholarship/$42,989 with 90% scholarship

It’s one thing to read someone’s story and think “Yeah, I guess that could happen,” but seeing that story put to numbers starts to paint a different picture–one where something’s missing. Buster Blonde makes a good case for the unlikelihood of a 90% scholarship and points out that even if this person was lucky enough to snag one, we can’t expect that from everyone. It’s not just unrealistic to think everyone will get a scholarship, it’s impossible. Everyone can’t be the best.

Second, where does this person find time for everything? I did a little math myself and guess what? There aren’t enough hours in the day.

168 hours in a week
-30 hours of work
-15 hours of class
-45 hours of homework (estimates say 3 hours of homework/1 credit hour)
-42 hours of sleeping (at 6 hours a night)
-14 hours of travel a day (1/2 hour to get to and from work and school)
-14 hours of cooking and eating and cleaning (remember, she doesn’t eat out)
= 8 hours a week for chores, personal hygiene, errands, overtime, etc.

What about life? Does this person have time or money for friends? How about a new shirt? Do they ever take a sick day or have to spend hours waiting in the financial aid office? Even robots need to be cleaned and oiled every once in a while.

Let’s talk about this person’s credit score. Oh wait, they don’t have one because they’ve never borrowed money or had a credit card. How will they buy a car or a house when they eventually want to? How about jobs? This person might have a college degree and a 3.8 GPA but they still won’t be able to compete in the job market. They’ll be up against thousands of people who have resumes positively covered in extra-curriculars, awards, and internships. You don’t get bonus points for having to work harder than everyone else because you weren’t born lucky (if you did, someone might label it a “quota system” and conservative radio hosts all over the country would talk about its unfairness).

While we’re on the topic of being born lucky, let’s talk about this person’s demographic details. If they’re white, male, straight, cis, or able-bodied, they were born into a legacy of privilege. They have social and monetary capital that minorities were barred from as a result of historical institutionalized discrimination.

All these oversights add up to something that’s, in Buster Blonde’s words, “not only ill-informed, [but] harmful.” Whether or not you agree with Occupy Wall Street, the fact that people involved in this movement continues to be dismissed as as undeserving and lazy  makes it worth a second look. It reveals just how deep the belief in American exceptionalism goes. As long as we continue to believe that success invariably comes from “doing the right thing” and failure is always the result of bad decisions, nothing will change. The race to the top is lonely which might be why it seems that the slogan “We are the 99%” is as much about creating a sense of community as it is about fighting corruption. By recognizing that we’re members of a group, we start realizing that our common goal to thrive doesn’t have to mean that we’re all taking the same road there. Because if Sally’s way is the only way, something’s not going right.

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Laura is a tiny girl who wishes she were a superhero. She likes talking to her grandma on the phone and making things with her hands. Strengths include an impressive knowledge of Harry Potter, the ability to apply sociology to everything under the sun, and a knack for haggling for groceries in Spanish. Weaknesses: Chick-fil-a, her triceps, girls in glasses, and the subjunctive mood. Follow the vagabond adventures of Laura and her bike on twitter [@laurrrrita].

Laura has written 308 articles for us.


  1. The sign in itself is offensive to anyone who isnʻt a robot. Even if Sally was able to pull that off, she would quickly burn out. It just amazes me that people would rather compare their weighty burdens to someone elseʻs in an effort to seem competitive and superior, rather than realize how frustrating it is that they have to work themselves to death in the first place.

  2. That is so insulting! I graduated top of my class, was valedictorian, did the same thing in college, and because the field of education and writing is so competitive, underfunded, and overloaded, I’m lucky to get a job waiting tables that can pay my rent!

    For a much much more balanced and realistic viewpoint on our generation, you guys should read this article, in which the girl (someone our age) discusses REAL statistics and real people who are dealing with them in various ways

  3. As someone who actually works 30+ hours a week, attends an in-state public university, takes a crazy number of classes and has a reasonable scholarship, I can’t even tell you how much this pisses me off. It doesn’t matter how much you work: You will never make enough to cover school from just your campus job. Even living with the bare essentials and never seeing my friends, there’s no way I could get out of college in four years debt-free, let alone survive not burning out. This is just ridiculous. Also, my friends did the math for me, and I have negative 8 hours of free time per week. So. This gives me a lot of feelings.

    In conclusion, I want to throat-punch this person.

    • Okay what with your Whitney’s Door tumblr, this whole comment, and your use of the verb “throat-punch,” I do believe that I have developed a solid internet-crush on you. This makes sense seeing as I already have a very strong internet-crush on Riese, and you are her intern, thus you are both made from the same awesomesauce.

  4. I love how s/he expects nothing to be handed out but brags about picking a public taxpayer funded university.

    A decent number of the 53% pics are photoshopped though. This isn’t one of them, but it’s nice to know that some of this shit is fake.

    But I don’t think I’ve encountered anyone outside the internet who knows what this idiotic counter movement is, which is a good thing I guess.

  5. This was a mighty interesting article and only highlights the immense differences between the US and the EU. Just for comparison I want to sketch the financial situation of most students here in my country (the Netherlands)

    tuition to university (doesn’t matter which one, doesn’t matter which study they all cost the same. We don’t do scholarships here): 1700 euro
    monthly financial loan from the state to the student (when you finish your study in 6 years this loan will become a gift): 266 (if you have your own room)/90 euro if you live with your parents
    average rent to for a 14 square meter room: 350 euros

    You see how this already becomes a problem? Students here are forced to work here as well, but there are problems with attending classes/homework/social life/extracurriculum activities etc. So there is a possibility to get a loan from the state (yes, the state because the interest rates are way lower than from commercial banks) up to 500 euro a month. Many kids do this, also leaving them with crazy debts when they are graduated. I was so lucky my parents have enough money to support me so I don’t have all this but it sucks. But the situation in the US is way worse.

    • 1700 euro is about how much I have to pay back for my loans. I paid the rest off and paid for books with the money I got from working and borrowing $900 from my parents (a handout I happily took!…and also have to pay back). I only went for 2 quarters and then I got out and joined the U.S. Navy so next time I can foot them the bill! haha jk but also seriously I’m glad I don’t have to worry about paying for school.

  6. “I expect nothing to be handed to me, and will continue to work my ass off for everything I have. That’s how it’s supposed to work.”

    Let’s ignore the fact that she actually did get a massive handout in the form of scholarships and a public university for a moment.

    That’s how it’s supposed to work for most of the world, yeah, but for the 1%, that’s not how it works. She seems to be under the delusion that the college students that are part of the 1% somehow got there themselves, when clearly at that age the only thing keeping them in the 1% is extraordinary luck when being born. So since the 1% got to the top by stepping on the shoulders of those below them, how about giving the rest of us a hand up when you’re all the way up there? Because you didn’t magically levitate to the top of the heap, y’know.

    Another thing that gets me is that accumulating a shitton of student loan debt is basically a rite of passage recently. People act like college students are the most irresponsible assholes on earth because of our student loan debt, when in reality it’s almost entirely necessary to possess some sort of degree to get ANY kind of job that pays a liveable wage. If you don’t go to college and get a min wage job instead, you’re a lazy failure. If you go to college and get into debt, you’re irresponsible. Thankfully I live in Canada where universities are content with charging only an arm and a leg, whereas in the US universities seem to want an arm, a leg, a kidney, and your firstborn.

    Finally, this person’s amazing lack of ability to understand percentages astounds me. As has been pointed out several times, she is not the 1%, and she will probably never be, despite her hard work. This economy, ruined by the greed of those in the 1%, is not a place where a person who started from nothing can rise to the top as easily as before. (Unless you happen to be a techie entrepreneurial genius, in which case congratulations and remember the rest of us fondly when you’re up there, ok?)

  7. My story sounded an awful lot like the one in pic for a hot minute. As a graduate student who had received substantial scholarships (all merit-based) as an undergraduate at a private institution, I was doing a lot of self-congratulatory back-patting about juggling a full-time job, graduate school, making smart financial decisions, and only taking out minimal loans to cover grad school.
    Then, 2 months after falling off of my parents’ health insurance, I was diagnosed with a chronic, life threatening genetic disease that, as things stand, will likely kill me in the next 20 years. One round of PET scans later, I’m drowning in $10,000+ medical debt. I couldn’t buy health insurance. I had a pre-existing condition. I literally could not give an insurance company enough money to insure me.
    When I went to seek Medicaid, my social worker advised me to either quit my restaurant management job (how would I pay bills, eat, or live?) or have a baby. Otherwise, I didn’t qualify for aid. Medical debt, the only bills I have ever failed to pay on time, have ruined my credit. 7 years later, I’m still paying them off.

    Even when you’re one of the so-called 53%, even when you work extremely hard and do everything right, something can go wrong. Your entire financial future can be derailed by a single diagnosis. Even if this person’s story is true (and based on the math-that isn’t likely), that doesn’t mean that the system works for the majority, or that it’s fair. It just means that one person is surviving, just barely, for now.

    • This sounds terrible, I’m so sorry. But I’m so glad how you point out that chance can change everything– and if one event that has nothing to do with you or your choices can ruin your financial prospects (and by prospects I mean, ability to survive), something is monumentally fucked up.

  8. the key here is that this girl hasn’t graduated yet. i know several people who are still in college and feel terrific about their financial status and job prospects. they laugh when i tell them how much money i make.

    they just have no idea what it’s like out there, and neither does she. a year from now, i think she’ll be feeling very different.

  9. Seriously. I’m a mid-level administrator at an affluent private university. Sometimes, I’m nearly overwhelmed by the urge to tell my students that I make less in one year than they pay in one year to attend school here.

  10. IT ISN’T ME.

    Just wanted to clear that up.

    Anyway, I’m going to be mildly controversial here and say that I don’t find the facts in that 53% photo so wildly implausible as to be untrue (definitely not as implausible as someone with handwriting like that making it through four years of college, but I guess kids don’t write these days?). However, I think everyone can agree that a 90% scholarship is getting into almost unicorn levels of rarity, and that to get through college in America without some specific handout (scholarship/govt aid as opposed to the general subsidied nature of all education) is, well, impossible.

    What strikes me about the stories from the 53% (I have to admit I could only bear to look at a couple of them) are that they are very much coloured by the tellers’ age and/or level of circumstance-based expectations.

    Here is another story:

    A long time ago (the 1970s) in a mythical kingdom far, far away (Manchester, England, which has already been established as a wonderland) a young man began a three-year drinking adventure fully, even excessively, funded by the goverment, called “university.”

    After some time, the man began a family and filled the heads of his young daughters with tales of this eden called “university,” and so their lives were fashioned so that they might go there too. The government had decided that it didn’t want to give kids money for uni any more, but that it would take money instead. It was ok though, because the amount was only a fraction of the family’s modest income. And so, the youngest daughter had her own three-year drinking adventure and woke up in a hungover haze one afternoon and was given a first-class degree.

    Such educational fairytales have been fuelling the expectations and ambitions of the western middle classes for decades. I grew up with the notion that university didn’t require hard work (other than a bit of effort at school to get in there), but was where you went to avoid doing real work for as long as possible.

    I graduated only ten years ago, but this (maybe slightly exaggerated) level of expectation crept on for several years, because why wouldn’t it? Anyone who got out of uni more than a handful of years ago cannot apply their own experiences to what’s happening now, because they were riding on the tails of an impossible fantasy, available to them solely because of where and when they were born.

    Many of the younger 53%ers were alerted very early to the shitstorm of real life due to impoverished backgrounds. Those with true tales of human effort to overcome terrible odds are admirable. But they should not automatically cancel out the tales of their peers who were given no warning that their odds would plummet to an almost equal level of terribleness.

    Anti-99%ers that say teenagers should realise that taking out toxic student loans is a bad idea, that they don’t have to go to this-or-that expensive college. Don’t they realise that this drive for education has been programmed into us? Literally. In the UK, one of the early targets of the 97 Labour government was to get 50% of kids into university. That screams that a nation expects, if not demands that if you want to be anybody you have to go to uni.

    I’m lucky enough to have been educated at a time when choosing a job was discussed in terms of what we would find enjoyable or challenging rather than what will keep a roof over our heads. My luck doesn’t negate the harsh realities of today’s students. Those 53% can just fuck off.

  11. the 8 hours of personal time thing can happen, i mean, that was basically my life my senior year of college. I worked 32 hours a week (2 office jobs) and was an RA (with duty nights that were lockdown style and 14 hours long). Though, I was doing it to earn money in anticipation of loans. I calculated it out because i was curious about how much time I had, and it came to like, 10 hours a week. While I was working that much I basically had a mental breakdown. I started to disassociate my feelings from my body and I thought about suicide occasionally. I wouldn’t recommend that lifestyle for anyone, it is unsustainable and I stopped doing everything I enjoyed (read: working out for my health) and became mentally and physically unhealthy. So, 53% girl could be telling the truth regarding that, but i hope she’s exaggerating.

    • This. If this is true, “Sally” is in so much trouble right now, even if she doesn’t realize it yet. I have done something similar to this, and watched my friends take on absurd workloads while sacrificing their free time. It didn’t last. Not for any of us, and I don’t think we were even down to 8 hours of personal time.

      This is completely unsustainable.

  12. Isn’t the main problem with numbers here that she IS the 99% because she’s clearly not in the richest 1%.

    Also she’s not the 53% of “net contributors” (which is nonsensical because everyone gains from the state but lets pretend for a moment it’s a legitimate thing). She goes to a state university and gets a scholarship. She doesn’t earn enough to pay more in taxes than what she receives from a subsidised education. So basically it’s all kinds of wrong.

  13. I made an account on Autostraddle JUST to say this:

    Dear member of the 53%

    Please explain to me how having 90% of your tution paid for by scholarships is in any way something typical. Or even realistic.

    High school student in the throes of college applications

    P.S. Greetings, Autostraddlers! Nice to meet you all!

    • I have free tuition. Some states will give it to you if you score high enough on your high school exit exams.

      However, tuition is 800 a semester at my school. Fees, room, and board are 10,000. So yeah, I’m still going to have a ton of debt when I graduate.

    • There was a school in my area that would have offered me full tuition if I had been accepted there, because I was a National Merit Finalist. However, it didn’t meet my academic needs, so it was never really an option.

  14. I’m also glad the author targets the “just go to community college first!” advice. As a music major at a conservatory, I’ve seen so many transfer students from community colleges have that advice blow up in their faces when they come here. We don’t have any non-music pre-reqs (just a certain number of electives in each area, and not enough that getting them out of the way would save you much time or money), and they don’t accept transfer credits for music courses – even ones you can take anywhere, like basic music theory or music history. Most of them graduate in the same four years it took the rest of us.

    Frankly, the truth here is is that none of us should have to jump through hoops like that. There are plenty of countries that recognize that education is a right, not a privilege, that ability to learn is not necessarily correlated with ability to pay, and offer systems like universal college tuition where every student really CAN choose the best place where they get in. If we truly want an educated workforce, we need to push closer to something like that – but of course we never will, because people freak out over something that even slightly smells of “socialism.”

    • Which is not to dismiss the people for whom this method worked. It worked well for my stepsister. Just sick of hearing this doled out as one-size-fits-all advice, or hearing those of us who didn’t follow advice like this dismissed as entitled or lazy. Because what it all comes down to is we SHOULDN’T have to do these things!

  15. This is a great article, Laura! Thank you.
    Also, can I just say that something this person clearly doesn’t have to struggle with is any sort of mental/emotional-illness/stress (if that makes sense)? If you’re using an exorbitantly large part of your energy/brain/life just to keep yourself ALIVE, it’s really hard to be functioning at 110% capacity for school/work/other accomplishments. And what about money/time for medicine/therapy?

    This post has a lot of slashes, and I have just as many feelings.

    • Agree 100% Po. This person is clearly able to maintain her academic excellence while expending a lot of energy on staying alive, which not many people could do, and which the person does not recognise is a privilege of excellent physical and mental health / excellent previous education / prior family support as well as their own hard work and intelligence.

      Most of us have to be reasonably fresh and alert in order to learn effectively. What’s the point in getting a scholarship and then flogging yourself to be self-supporting through college if you come out of it with a poor grade because you weren’t focused on making the most of your college years?

      • Also, burnout creeps up on a person. You don’t always realise that you can’t actually deal with all that you have taken on till it’s too late. It’s hard to recover from, and hard to ever regain your previous resilience. It’s not worth wrecking your health for.

    • a: thanks =)
      b: excellent point. i know i wouldn’t have made it through college without help finding a therapist/my parents help paying for stupidly expensive antidepressants. it’s hard enough to wake up when you’re in a black hole and sometimes impossible to pull yourself out on your own.

    • I really appreciate you bringing up mental health, Po. I have struggled with severe depression and anxiety since the age of 14, and spent my high school years in and out of hospital because of them. College has been better, but still a struggle. Sleeping 8 hours every night, eating well, and having free time are really a matter of life and death for me. Luckily I have enough financial support from my upper middle class parents that I am not expected to work my way through college, and I will graduate without debt, even after taking extra semesters. But I am painfully aware of how uncommon this situation is. Thousands of young people struggle with mental illness and DON’T have my kind of support – instead they are expected to magically work 60 hours a week, without healthcare. And if that doesn’t work, and they need to rely on welfare (provided they are able to get it – disability money for mental illness is almost impossible to qualify for), they are blamed for mooching. I can’t stand how much the 53% movement disregards, or just outright hates, those of us who struggle with disabilities.

  16. It looks like they removed the original article :( Quite a bummer, because this was one of the best dissections of the problems with the “bootstraps” mentality that I’ve ever seen.

  17. You are making assumptions in your analysis that may not be correct. You assume she is living alone. She may be sharing a cheap apartment with others greatly reducing her rent and utilities. You assume she has health insurance. Perhaps she doesn’t. She may not have a cell phone. She may use a land line. I do. All this could really reduce her costs. I am one of the 53%, although I don’t belong to any group. I was amazed to find out that 47% of Americans do not pay any income tax. And, I was further amazed to find out how much money is available in refundable federal tax credits available to low-income families.
    Now I have been low-income myself, and it is not fun. But we managed and with both of us working we were able to do better for ourselves and our children. I was even able to get a college degree while working and bringing up two children. No mean feat. We did get some help but not a whole lot. However, I am very grateful for what we did get.
    I don’t object to helping people out. But I do object to people expecting everything handed to them which seems to be the case with the We are the 99%. I see them each day as I walk to work and read their signs.
    The best thing we can do for America is to get our tax system revamped. We need a simpler and more equitable system both for the top earners and those at the lower end who pay no income tax. Everyone needs to contribute at least a little. With a fairer system and some tax stability then business would be willing to start spending again. Right now they don’t know what next year will bring as our tax code is in such flux.

    • You’re making a hell of a lot of assumptions about Sally there.

      You’re misunderstanding the point about the 53%. The argument is not that 47% don’t pay income tax – everybody does – it’s just that when you add up income tax with whatever benefits such as welfare/food stamps/etc the result is either zero or negative.

      The reason this is bullshit is that the 53% does not factor in sales tax. When factoring all forms of taxes poor people actually pay a higher percent of their income in taxes. The current progressive tax rate is an illusion; our system is pretty damn regressive.

      Know what the problem is with tax credits for low income families, besides the fact that they actually aren’t all that much? Poor people don’t know about them. Nobody tells them they exist because the poor can’t afford to have someone do their taxes for them or explain what their options are. Not to mention that a lot of poor people, due to their general ignorance of tax law, don’t try to claim a credit because they’re afraid to make a mistake and get audited. So they go the safe route and claim none.

      Congrats, you made it. But that’s simply not possible for millions of Americans, so sorry if your success story doesn’t alter my view of the entire system.

      You obviously don’t understand what the We Are The 99%/Occupy movement is. Their main complaint is the influence of corporate money in politics. Get educated, preferably not from Fox News.

      In case you don’t understand what makes our tax code so complicated is not multiple tax brackets. It’s all of the loopholes and available tax credits and subsidies.

      Again, the poor already pay a larger portion of their income. At the same time multiple corporations pay a negative corporate tax rate; that is, they received more in subsidies than they pay in taxes.

      So I agree that we need a fairer tax system; it’s time for the rich and corporations to start paying their fair share.

    • Berenetc., if you are anything other than some sort of robotroll wandering from comment board to comment board, you may find this article interesting as another, more nuanced take on your assertion that those protesting “expect to have everything handed to them:”

      I especially find that contention bizarre because one of the main sentiments behind the protests is that people *want to work.* They’re angry in large part because there isn’t enough work, period, or *livable* work (if you’re gonna be really demanding), to be found for many Americans right now.

      Also, what you’re passing over in your shock — shock! — that many Americans don’t pay income tax is the fact that this doesn’t mean they don’t pay *any* taxes. Far from it. There’s sales tax (a *re*gressive tax, which you oughta like), payroll tax, and on and on.

      As Matt Taibbi says in the article linked above, “Bankers on Wall Street pay lower tax rates than most car mechanics. When Warren Buffet released his tax information, we learned that with taxable income of $39 million, he paid $6.9 million in taxes last year, a tax rate of about 17.4%. . . . Bank of America last year paid not a single dollar in taxes — in fact, it received a “tax credit” of $1 billion. There are a slew of troubled companies that will not be paying taxes for years, including Citigroup and CIT.”

      So *that’s* the sort of thing OWS is mad about. Not because no one’s giving them free money.

    • “But we managed and with both of us working we were able to do better for ourselves and our children. I was even able to get a college degree while working and bringing up two children. No mean feat. We did get some help but not a whole lot. However, I am very grateful for what we did get.”

      I’m curious – when did you go to college? You know that being able to put yourself through college 5, 10, or 20 years ago does not mean you have any idea the burden college students and recent graduates are under today, right?

      My mom was one of those “bootstraps” people, too, who managed to pay for almost all of her college herself. That was 30 years ago. She doesn’t kid herself that what she did is possible for me – especially since the college I’m attending is a lot harder than the one she had to choose.

  18. …and would this girl still be able to graduate almost debt free if she wasn’t on speaking terms with her parents and they wouldn’t fill put the FAFSA for her?

    This mythical girl upsets me because I seem to work just as hard as her and will still graduate with over 30,000 in debt. And I have really nice parents who took on another 16,000 in debt to help me through my first two years of college! (they only stopped because they can only take on much debt and my sister went to college)

    Seriously though. College should be closer to free. I go to the only public university in New England with my major. Luckily it’s in my state so i get instate tuition.

    I’m rambling. I think I have too many feelings about student loan debt.

  19. regardless of the exactness of the numbers here, thank you…NO SERIOUSLY THANK YOU. i just read a status from a girl in my hip-hop group that was so insufferable i don’t know how i’ll continue normal conversation with her tomorrow. so thank you for putting all of the feelings i’ve had in the past ten minutes into this article.

  20. I am currently in a situation somewhat similar to “Sally” and really do not understand her logic here at all…
    I take 19 credits at an out-of-state university. I got scholarships that more than halved my tuition (making what I pay cheaper than in-state).
    But, I still have to work 15 hours per week at an on-campus job and 20-25 additional hours at minimum wage off-campus.
    That fact doesn’t make me proud, it makes me mad as hell. I see the crazy amount of hours far too many of my friends are putting in to get themselves through school too, and I see is as a HUGE problem.
    It is sad to me that Sally is holding up this sort of life as something people should be satisfied with.
    At least it makes her feel superior, I think pretty much everyone else just feels depressed.

  21. My adorable college advisor showed this to me today. She has two little kids, lives in the suburbs, and could be on a Betty Crocker box. Her analysis was “what a stupid fuck.”

  22. Maybe those numbers don’t work in Seattle, but they do work other places where the cost of living is lower. I am currently working on my PhD, and don’t have a dollar of student debt because I have worked and earned privately funded scholarships throughout the 11 years I’ve been “in college”. I have never received federal financial aid, and I don’t come from a privileged I family. Together, my parents make less than $55,000 in combined income, and couldn’t help me much. I’ve worked since I was 15, and have saved money to pay for school. I have a few friends who made the short drive to participate in OWS, and I find it interesting… Yes, they have legitimate student loan debt from when they were undergrads. What really baffles me, though, is that they always take the largest loan they can get, and they then use that money to cushion spending in excess of their means.

    Yes, there are some major issues with the cost of education in this country, and that influences debt. But at the same time, if you’re getting a degree in the humanities, for instance, you know the kind of jobs you’re going to be eligible for, you have a ballpark of what you’ll be making. So why rack up the debt just because someone will loan you the money beyond what you actually need for school?!? Sure, there are unusual circumstances, but I think a lot of debt my peers carry is due to poor decision making and poor financial management skills — two things no one is responsible for but you.

    • “Yes, they have legitimate student loan debt from when they were undergrads. What really baffles me, though, is that they always take the largest loan they can get, and they then use that money to cushion spending in excess of their means.”

      I guess we just know wildly different sets of people, then — I do not know anyone among my peers who adopted that strategy. Personally, I’ve never used loans towards living expenses — mine were all disbursed directly to the school, so I never had my hands on any of that money. And that’s the case with nearly everyone I know. I have a good job and can handle my monthly payments, but I can very easily imagine a situation in which I wouldn’t be so lucky.

      • Of course, it depends on what the person considers to be “living beyond your means.” I would say that taking money out to pay for necessities like food, or rent, or in my case right now, a new computer because my current one is literally falling apart*, should NOT be considered “luxuries.” Those are necessities for modern college students. Food and shelter have always been necessities, and computer use is required in some respect for pretty much every college major now.

        *And yes, I need my OWN computer, because I have a major that requires use of software that is not available on school computers.

  23. Yes, my humanities degree (in Asian studies and education) only qualifies me for low-pay jobs like teaching high school. And it’s entirely my fault for choosing to go to an excellent (private, top-tier) college that I have student debt to pay. As we know, the entire point of a college degree is to get a job and make money. It’s not, you know, in order to get an education and try to develop my intellectual skills and continue my search for a meaningful existence and a way to contribute to the human community and our ceaseless quest for the expansion of our understanding. Nope, it was all about becoming marketable. I could have gone to the state school, but they didn’t have the academic rigor and variety and opportunity of the private school I got into.

    Yes, I’m in debt. But, should top tier private institutions be only for the wealthy? Do you really think that’s going to solve the inequality in our system? And more importantly, should my inability to afford it out-of-pocket really make it a bad financial decision?

    But mostly, I’m offended by the idea that humanities majors are worth less than other majors. Find me a culture without art, music, literature, or history that is appreciated by others and I’ll change my mind. Until then, I’ll remember that the humanities are the measures we use to judge our progress as a species, not the contents of our bank accounts.

  24. Income from working 30 hours a week: $45,891
    College tuition: $9,000 without scholarship/ $3,750 with 90% scholarship
    Rent: $3,600/year
    Utilities: $120
    Cell phone: $540
    Bus Pass: Free with school
    Food: $6,000
    Books: $300 (buy used on line, library, borrow)
    Health Insurance: I will admit my privledge here, my mom is a teacher. Ohio state law covers all children up to 28, so $0 there
    Total: $21,672
    In addition I have a successful social life and do extracurriculars in my field almost every day. Not only can I afford I have left over.

    • You have a job that pays $45,891 for 30 hours a week?

      I can’t even comprehend that. That is so much more money than I can imagine making ever (and I’m out of college and have had full-time jobs that required a college degree.) I hope you realize that you’re incredibly fortunate and the exception, not the rule.

    • do you mind if i ask where you’re living that you only pay $300 a month in rent and $120 a year in utilities? i’m not doubting you – just curious.

      • I live with a roommate in Cleveland. Utilities are $20 a month.
        And I copied and pasted the income from the article, didn’t fix it. I make like $25K working in Theatre

  25. I am shocked by the basic lack of empathy in screeds like the one posted above. (not the op, the handwritten 53% one) It strikes me as an inability to imagine a life/circumstances that are not your own. To me that’s a basic part of being a functioning human being, the ability to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. It seems that these people have never cultivated that ability and that leaves me hollow inside. These same people essentially are willing to look me in the face and say that all of my challenges, all the doors shut in my face, don’t matter and I should die in a gutter somewhere because somehow I didn’t try hard enough. Goodness. To me, theory aside, big issues aside, complexities aside, what all of this is about is what kind of nation we want to be. What kind of people we want to be. Do we want to help each other, cultivate compassion and understanding, celebrate differences and provide everyone with the basics all humans deserve? Or are we dog eat dog?

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