Monday, June 12, 2017

Latte with a side of poverty?

When I got my first job out of college, I predicted the economy would collapse under its own weight eventually.  This was in 2003.  In San Diego, where I lived at the time, both housing prices and rents were skyrocketing.  I had what would be considered a "good" job (eight-to-five, permanent, with benefits), and the best I could afford was rent on a converted shed and a 12-year-old rattletrap Honda that I somehow managed to keep alive to go back and forth to work.  Neighborhoods that had been considered unlivable slums only a couple of years earlier were becoming too expensive for even the middle class.  Many of my coworkers were buying homes over an hour away in Riverside County.  They were signing subprime mortgages (which, even at the young age of 21 I could see were a terrible deal) and encouraged me to do the same.
I wonder how many of them were able to keep their houses after 2008.
The Great Recession was almost ten years ago, and according to many economists, didn't last very long.  Great.  Only most people in my age cohort are cobbling together part-time service sector jobs and side stints as Uber drivers, sharing apartments, putting off marriage and having children, and not really enjoying any real prosperity.  The only costs that seemed to have dropped significantly is the cost of gasoline.  Housing is still unaffordable, and tuition costs have tripled since 1999.  We've even coined the term "jobless recovery" to explain it.  The State of The Union is Not Good once again.
And we don't get much sympathy from those who should know better.  The Boomers lived through the "stagflation crisis" of the 1970s, and their parents lived through the Great Depression.  Instead of commiserating with us, or fighting to make things better, all we hear is a lot of blame.  "It's the IPhones."  "It's the lattes."  "It's the avocado toast."
Right.  Because unless you can afford a house, you don't deserve happiness.
According to The Economist, the ratio of housing to income is still over 100 percent.  There was a slight drop after 2008, but not enough of one to be significant. 
But maybe we Millennials are wasting our money on high-end coffee and techno toys.  Lets look at, for example, an IPhone.  At first glance, $700 for a phone is a lot of money, especially for someone crying poverty.  And especially when many people get new phones every two years.  But let's break that phone down, dollar wise.  $700 over 24 months is less than $30 per month.  That's less than the cost of an electric bill, a week's groceries, or a dinner for two in a mid-priced chain restaurant.  Suddenly that phone looks a lot less expensive.
But what about those lattes?  A five-dollar a day Starbucks habit has got to be breaking into the bottom line.  First of all, unless you're buying a daily Frappucino, you're not spending that much.  A tall Caffe Latte is $2.95 plus tax.  So about $3 a day.  Multiply that by five days (assuming that this is purchased on the way to work), and that's $15 a week.  Over 52 weeks that comes to $780 a year.  The median housing price in the United States is $199,800.  Assuming the 20% down payment you need to save before you can even think about a mortgage, cutting the lattes will get you there in 51 years.  Given that the median life expectancy is 78 years, and assuming you start saving at age 18, you will buy that house when you are 69 years old.  Does it sound like a worthwhile sacrifice?

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