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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Long Distance Mom: Indentured Teens
January 25, 2012 - 7:30pm

I was shocked this weekend after calling car insurance companies to add my 16 year-old daughter, Katie, to my plan. Nick, my 18 year-old, is already covered, but apparently — due to some fortunate confusion by an agent — I was paying the Illinois rate (the state in which I work), not the Florida rate where my second car and teenagers are located.

Since I commute between Illinois and Florida primarily by plane, I keep two old cars in both states, one of which I share with my teenagers. The young insurance agent I spoke with on the phone had empathy for me when I reacted with horror after he described the $4900 a year costs for the ’94 vehicle that my teens drive to and from school and their jobs. (No collision coverage, of course…) After lots of Googling and help from my ex-husband, we reduced the costs to about $3400 a year, which rounds out to $140 a month per teen. My teens have $8.00 an hour jobs to cover their gas and entertainment costs. The Tampa bus system is too slow and inconvenient for their busy schedules.

Unbelievable!  Why should young people even work?! Mine can barely afford to drive to their jobs. About 50% of my teens’ job earnings will now go to their insurance. (I still cover the cell phone, but that will change…) Nick may take a gap year before college, so he is quickly being introduced to the ‘nickel and dimed’ to death reality of working class America.

I just finished an excellent article by Jeffrey J. Williams in Academe, “Academic Freedom and Indentured Students,” which investigates how our youth are financially imprisoned with higher debt, higher tuition and other costs of living (such as car insurance).  Williams weaves a painful analogy between the indentured labor practices of the 17th century and student loan debt of today.  Just as the contractual length of time for the labor commitment of indentured servants increased in order to cover more boat rides from Europe to the colonies, student debt rules have loosened and increased over the last few decades to cover higher tuition costs. The average debt (including credit cards) for “two-thirds of American college students” is now close to $30,000 (Williams, 2008 data, Nat’l Center for Education Statistics).  Federal debt is $24,000 of that figure as opposed to “twenty-five years ago, when average federal loan debt was less than $2000 per student."

As Williams outlines, U.S. universities were initially formed with democratic ideals of merit in mind (e.g., any student can get a scholarship if they make high enough grades), but education quickly developed class-based internal divisions and biases. A classical liberal arts education for the wealthier students (who can major in philosophy) vs. vocational training for working class students is one such division. But I digress… (I will return to the question of class and the humanities in another column.)

I hope that we can find some better solutions to the indentured servitude for the youth of today (and their parents).


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