How do our parents (or any person over 40) say they had a stable job at 25 and most young people nowadays can barely pay for food? What changed?

I don't think much has changed except, as another poster stated, that which we take for granted.

I was barely able to buy food at age 25. The difference is that I lived with virtually no luxuries at 25, either. Yes, I had a car. But living in Fargo, ND in the 1980s and 1990s, you weren't able to work if you didn't have a way to drive to work in the winter. The cars I drove throughout the 80s and 90s were cheap junkers that cost $500 or less and were easy to dispose of once they stopped running. The junkyard would pay $50 for junk metal.

In the year 2000, when I was 25, I was paying less than $15 a month for internet. I did not have cable TV. My only phone was a flip phone through a local cell carrier that cost $20 a month. My monthly bill to "stay connected" was $35 (that's about $50 adjusted for inflation).

My luxuries included things like cheap coffee that I made at home, DVDs and CDs picked out from pawn shop bargain bins, and cheap-ass entertainment devices like DVD players and TVs also picked out from pawn shop bargain bins. Occasionally, I would splurge $5 to $6 for a case of Natural Ice, Reineer Draft, or Bush Light. In the 1990s, I inherited computers from other people who had upgraded, and I learned in 1996 that there was a market for those obsolete computers when I traded three of them in to buy a new one.

I skipped meals regularly. I worked in a restaurant, so food was never difficult to come by. When I made my way up to manager, one of the reasons why I always tried to find ways to feed my employees without adding to food costs is because of the simple fact that I, as the manager, could not always afford food, either.

Did I mention that I had student loans?

The things that are different today?

  1. Health care costs. They are simply unaffordable to almost half of all Americans, and we're not just talking about young folks here. When I was younger, I got lucky in that I was healthy. Had I come down with any kind of severe illness prior to age 25, I might have never recovered financially. This problem has been exacerbated.
  2. Technology. Averaged from 1995 to 2004, my average monthly technology budget, including purchasing new hardware and software, was less than $50 a month. Currently, my monthly technology budget is over $250 a month. And I tend to be frugal. I waited three years too long to buy a new phone, something that I use every day for my job, and I purchased a new desktop computer last fall simply because the mother board on my old one fried. I do not subscribe to any video services, and I do not own a TV. Younger folks nowadays take this kind of stuff for granted, but it eats at a huge part of people's income. Twenty years ago, we lived without mobile devices, and the proliferation of mobile devices as a necessity in every-day life has made it much more expensive to live.
  3. Rent. This one is a tricky one, no doubt, because rental costs seem to be directly correlated with availability to employment. There are still lots of places in this country to find cheap rent. The problem is, most of those places will necessitate a long commute which, over time, will overcome the cheap rent.
  4. School. I firmly believe that advanced education is the only way to guarantee that our country remains a healthy and vibrant place to live. Obtaining education isn't merely a way to advance in life. It's a way to keep society intact. When I went to school for the first time in the early to mid 90s, I never though I'd pay off the $6,000 to $7,000 in student loan debt that I had amassed. When I finished school 20 years later, my student loan debt, with a ton of financial assistance, was over $50,000. That's a little bit more than an inflationary increase.

Overall, the cost of living for the basic necessities, outside of healthcare, hasn't changed that much. Much of what we buy now, especially in regards to technology, is actually cheaper than it was when I was younger. The problem is, we need so much more of it. For instance, if you don't own a cell phone, a huge chunk of the job market becomes unavailable to you. I'm fortunate enough to work for an employer that offers a partial reimbursement for cell phone costs. Not everyone does.


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