Call me insensitive but I wholeheartedly agree with Margaret Wente’s recent column in The Globe and Mail, “Student debt crisis? No, crisis in expectations” . I keep hearing how it’s different for young people today. They have huge student debts to pay off and no hope of getting a salary to take care of it, etc. etc.
Let’s step back a bit and compare Apples (today’s youth) and Oranges (baby boomers). I’m an Orange – a beta baby boomer, born in 1947. Living at home was not an option when I finished high school. There were no jobs in our small Ontario town. Apart from #Ryerson or university, none of the community colleges even existed when I graduated high school and left home at seventeen. So, like my graduating contemporaries I came to the city to seek my fortune in the working world at the age of 17.
That fortune began on July 5, 1965 with a low-level clerk-typist job at The Bell Telephone Company of Canada, as it was called then. I applied to various companies before I finished school and accepted an interview and ultimately a job with Bell at their recruiting centre at 50 Eglinton Avenue East in Toronto. Recognizing me as a naive hayseed new to Toronto, the nice hiring lady at Bell referred me to a girls’ residence on Gerrard Street at Yonge known as Willard Hall. It was a three-storey boarding house for young girls run by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union – yes – temperance – no smoking, no alcohol and no you-know-what. Drugs were unheard of and consumed only by the low-lifes a couple of streets over on Jarvis. Weed was just beginning to emerge for common consumption but still a distant apparition for us Willard Hall girls.
My parents dropped me off on the front steps of Willard Hall late on a Sunday afternoon the week after school ended, with one suitcase and no money other than what I had earned and saved at various part-time jobs during high school. I was to start work on University Avenue the next day and saved money by walking to work.
I can still remember my first meal alone at Fran’s restaurant on Yonge Street that Sunday – an egg salad sandwich and a glass of milk. Then I walked back up the street to begin my new adult
life. Willard Hall was a life with no TV and only two phones on each floor for about 100 “young ladies” to share – incoming calls only. Accommodations were spartan with no showers, just old-fashioned claw-foot bathtubs for bathing. It was similar to living at the YWCA and I did it for two years, sharing a room and closet with another small-town girl working at Eaton’s.
How does that compare with the Apples of today who have full parental funding perhaps supplemented with a student loan, a portion or all of university tuition taken care of and a guarantee of financial and emotional support for the next 4 years? Today’s Apples come with a car-load of stylish clothing, computers, cell phones, flat-screen TVs, fridges, sports equipment and every technical device known to human-kind, not to mention a credit card or two funded by parents.
My brother attended five years at University of Toronto on his own nickel. This was accomplished with money he too saved from several part-time jobs during high school and while attending university. He needed some student loans to fill the gap but paid them back as quickly as possible. No parental support. No car. No high-priced sneakers. No fat. Period. I also took university and college courses at my own expense over the years to enhance my resumé.
My Boomer friend’s son, Mark who is part of the Apple generation frittered away his first few years after high school. By the time he decided he wanted a university education, his family was not only unable but unwilling to pay for it. Hoping for a future in technology the prospects were slim to nil without the piece of paper. To his credit, he investigated acquiring the knowledge on his own and paying for and writing the necessary exams to achieve the credits and he did it.
In the days before credit cards, we Oranges paid cash for everything, including visits to the doctor and the dentist. Today’s Apples are completely “covered”. What we didn’t have the cash for we did not buy.
Until I got married at the age of 27, I lived in a variety of accommodations, none of them particularly luxurious. I shared a 1-bedroom apartment on Vaughan Road with two sisters who crammed two single beds into the tiny bedroom while I slept on the second-hand couch. I once lived on the top attic floor of a cheap boardinghouse in Parkdale with a hot plate in the hallway and a taxi-driver in the room across the hall. The summer heat in that little attic room was unbearable. The first apartment I rented on my own was an ancient bachelor unit, again on Vaughan Road with no kitchen counters, an old claw-foot tub and an endless supply of mice. Would Apples settle for such accommodations – or more appropriately would their adoring parents let them.
Some of the jobs that I and my Orange friends have held over the years have been equally uninspiring, working for Ma Bell, insurance companies and banks. But we did them to pay the rent and buy our Kraft dinner. Moving home was not an option. And that brings me to the crux of my argument. We Oranges did what we had to do because we had no options – there were no boomerang kids then. Parents expected us to suck it up and figure things out. After all, they had come through the Depression and had no sympathy for whiners.
As I’ve said before, I think the key to success in life is being “hungry” at some point along the way with no safety net. You get pretty resourceful when there’s no one there to bail you out. It’s character building. And for what it’s worth that’s how one Boomer Broad from The Age of Aquarius views The Age of Entitlement. For better or worse.