The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Boomers and College: Memes are for Morons

Our series “Memes are for Morons” is meant to explain how memes are a very bad way of learning facts and that if you are trying educate yourself, and facts actually matter to you, then avoid memes. The reality of most situations is more complex than can ever be expressed in a meme which is why some people, who are notorious at lying to further their ideological agenda, use them with some regularity

Sadly this is done by all ideologies. Of course, if we expose a right-wing meme people on the left tend to applaud us, but then turn around and boo furiously when it’s one of their memes being dissected. We try to be a equal opportunity offender, exposing the falsehoods in memes regardless of their ideology. I should say now and then a meme makes a simply factual statement and gets it right—just not often enough to make they reliable.

In recent years the U.S. Congress has become an asylum for notorious liar and while I think the Republicans have the edge on that Democrats aren’t immune and one of the worst offenders at fake news is Bernie Sanders. Here is another example of his twisting facts.

I found this particularly fascinating as I was as part of the so-called Baby Boom. According to Bernie, who is too old to be a Boomer, my generation only needed to work 306 hours of minimum wage work to pay for college. Oh, how I wish that were the case.

I went to two private colleges, took courses at Purdue University and also spent two years at the University of Connecitcut. None of them were as cheap as Bernie blathers about.

Now the term Boomer covers a wide swatch of people, anyone born from 1946 to about 1964. There is no precise definition. It’s a popular term not a scientific one. Someone born in 1956 would be approximately in the the middle of the so-called Baby Boom and thus would start college in 1970.

Finding out the minimum wage is relatively easy to do. So facts are available, though memes tend to ignore facts and give you ready-made, and often false, conclusions. According to the Department of Labor the minimum wage in 1974 was $2.00 per hour. It increased to $2.10 in 1975 then again to $2.30 in 1976, which is where it remained in 1977, the last year for a four year degree for someone born in 1956.

According to Sanders it only took 306 hours work paying the minimum wages to pay for four years of college. I assume those 306 hours are divided into four equal parts of 76.5 (306/4) hours per year. Thus according to Sanders the typical public university charged $153 in 1974, $160.64 in 1975, $182.85 in 1975, and the same amount in 1977 for a total of $679.34 for all four years. That is obviously nonsense. I was in university in those years and I paid more than that per semester, and certainly nothing near that for four full years.

The National Center for Education Statistics says the average 4 year public university cost $599.00 in 1974, which would be 299.5 hours or work for one year. In 1975 costs were $642.00 for one year, which at the minimum wage that year would be 305.7 hours of work. In 1976 costs rose to $689, which is 299.6 hours of work, and in 1977 costs rose to $736, which is 320 hours of work. So, instead of taking 309 hours as Sanders asserted, the actual labor expended would have been 1,225.8. That is woefully understating the costs, indicating Sanders didn’t bother to check facts before sending out his tweet.

But that is only for tuition and mandator fees. And this would require all students to live at home with their parents the entire four years they are “away at college.” If we include the average cost including room and board it increases even more dramatically. With those costs the hours of labor required would be: 880 for 1974; 921.4 hours for 1975; 898.7 for 1976; and 947.5 hours for 1977. The total would 3,547.6 hours, not 309 hours.

Another indicator that Sanders is blowing smoke is the differences in college attendance. If it was so much cheaper in 1974 then would demand for degrees be higher? Don’t people buy more of something the cheaper it is? According to NCES in 1975 only 28.3 of young adults were in post-secondary 4-year institution. By 2006 it was 42.5%. According to them, “Of the 3.2 million 16- to 24-year-olds who completed high school in the first 9 months of 2018, some 2.2 million, or 69 percent, were enrolled in college in October 2018.”

As Bernie would have you believe, the cost of college has escalated dramatically and people are buying more it, not less of it.

I suspect Bernie picked up this claim from another source and merely repeated it without verification. His assumption, as is the case with many true believers, is anything that agrees with their conclusions must be true and anything that doesn’t must be false.


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James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.