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Our Standard of Living

Figure 3: You Live Better in the United States Today than Medieval European Royalty Lived Back Then

© 2009 Ron J. Hammond, Ph.D.

Have you ever toured a medieval castle? Their best accommodations were far better than the average person of their time, but way sub-par in comparison to the average person in our time. You grew up with central heat, running water, electricity, basic health knowledge and medical care, opportunities for 12-13 years of public education that cost you nothing (although your parents paid taxes), all the electronic gadgets you can buy, extra money to save or invest, and a life expectancy that very few royalty dreamed possible hundreds of years ago. Sure, they could control their subjects and servants, even take their lives if they so desired; but, today you can control your personal choices at the personal level and dramatically impact your own and some of your family member’s life course as you see fit.

Take for example one of my students from my Social Problems class back in 1996. To illustrate the personal level of stratification, I was interviewing the students in the class to see how much education and income their parents had, what their own majors were, and how much income they could anticipate after graduation. This way we could estimate their mobility between generations. For the most part my students were from working class backgrounds except one who had a medical doctor for a mother and a banker for a father. Her parents’ income was $2 million higher per year than all the other students.

The very last student in the class, “Julie” was from a family of 9. Her father was a disabled Vietnam War vet who could not hold a job and who had asked a war buddy to let him, his wife, and their 7 children live in his barn. They had only one extension cord, one garden hose, and a port-a-potty. She said she came to our college to become a school teacher and have a steady full-time job with medical benefits. She generously explained how happy she was to have 5 roommates in an apartment.

“I’ll never take another garden hose cold shower if I can help it. Did you know my apartment has 2 bathrooms with tubs and toilettes in each? We’ve got a dishwasher, fridge, and electric oven, too.” She had the entire class’ attention by now. “Yep, I’ll be a school teacher and when I do I'll help my brothers and sisters go to college…”

Interesting isn’t it? We often take for granted all the luxuries and comforts we have in our modern society and yet, sometimes right next door there are people who don’t have what we have. Julie did graduate and become a school teacher. I have since lost contact with her, but I’m sure she’s settled down and is helping her siblings through college. The point is that she, like all of us, can chose higher education, to graduate, and to acquire for ourselves a larger piece of the American Dream of a comfortable lifestyle and job security. We do this through education.

Date: 2015-02-28; view: 1737

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