Strikes, Walk Outs, & Other Old Answers To Today’s Higher Ed Problems

Community-screenshot college classroomHigher education costs students more than ever, and yet somehow there aren’t funds available to pay professors, so more than ever universities rely on poorly paid, PT adjuncts. This is one of the many cul-de-sacs we’re stuck in as a nation: more and more young people go into debt, often debt they can never repay, in order to go to college; and at the same time more and more older, pedigreed people, who are often deep in debt themselves, can’t get properly paid teaching jobs at college.

Someone is profiting from this confusion. It’s just not immediately clear who.

As we saw yesterday, though, the adjuncts are fighting back, staging walk outs and trying in other ways to call attention to their plight. Students are fighting back too. As Monica Potts writes in TPM’s Slice, some are going on strike and refusing to make payments.

Potts is sympathetic to the idea but falls short of condoning it. READ MORE


ONE! One Thing We Do! Ah, Ah, Ah…

countIt’s Thursday, which means it is time to Do 1 Thing, ah, ah, ah!

(So wait… does the Count ever, like, suck the blood out of other Sesame Street characters in order to survive? Is he one of those “vegetarian vampires?” What was he like before he became undead, and why did he make that choice? There’s so much of this story that was left out.)

Today my one thing is still tax-related: I need to calculate a bunch of additional tax deductions, because when I met with my CPA last week he told me I could deduct even more business expenses from my taxes. This is the best news ever, even though it means I have to go through and dig up a bunch of stuff out of my records.

What about you?


The Ombudsnerd


Since Arthur Chu’s historic win streak on Jeopardy! early last year, he’s shrewdly turned his still-minty viral celebrity into a regular gig as a cultural critic and, as some have put it, “the ombudsman of the nerd community.” At Nom Wah Tea Parlor in Manhattan’s Chinatown, we talked about milking his fifteen minutes, the crisis of nerd culture, and becoming an unlikely Asian-American male icon over a plate of chicken feet. (For me, since he politely declined.)

Is online celebrity strange?

It is, because stuff that’s happening on Twitter, you feel like it’s the whole world and you step off for a few minutes and it doesn’t matter to the majority of people. Even to the extent that it does, there’s a huge decoupling of what makes you important online. A lot of times, I just throw up my hands and say, “I don’t even know what my follower count means anymore.” You just have to keep that in perspective. It affects the real world but it’s something separate from the real world.

What did you do after Jeopardy!?

Call up publicists and PR firms, and said straight up, “Hey, do you work with viral celebrities?” Then I’d ask, “If you were me, how would you hang on to the fame, how would you monetize it?” I got good answers—they weren’t bad answers—but it was stuff I couldn’t imagine myself doing. It was stuff like, “Well you should take the whole idea of game theory and you should become an advice kind of guy, you should do lifehacker stuff, stuff like how-tos on how to invest, get a mortgage.” I said, “That stuff doesn’t interest me.” I didn’t want to keep talking about that for the rest of my life.



Parks and Rec and Money

parks and rec end

NBC’s Parks and Recreation aired its series finale on Tuesday, and I held off on writing anything about it until it showed up on streaming services on Wednesday, and even now I’m not going to give out any spoilers (although the comments are fair game to discuss the episode, so be prepared).

But I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say it ended happily.

Parks and Rec has always been about ambition and aspiration, and I didn’t realize until very recently just how much it was about financial aspiration as well. I mean, I saw the Jezebel post from a few years ago about how the Parks employees couldn’t afford the clothes they were wearing, that a $125 J. Crew sweater just didn’t make sense on a government worker salary, and I tossed it off as, you know, TV magic.

Also, they’re wearing J. Crew and Madewell, not clothes from Wearable Diamonds Emporium. It’s not like they’re trying to present themselves as unrealistic examples of middle-class adults, right? We’re supposed to watch along and think “yeah, I could totally get that blouse and that haircut and find my team and get to work.”

Then a friend sent me this Cracked article, 5 Insane Things You Believe About Money (Thanks to Movies), and this paragraph stuck with me:

And no matter how dumb their decisions, no matter how costly the failure, they’re in exactly the same spot the next week, as if there is no level you can fail to beyond, “struggling, but getting by.” They never lose their homes, the bank doesn’t seize their businesses, and they don’t have to take a second job instead of sleeping. They have room to try things, take risks, and get hurt, because, after all, that’s what defines all fictional protagonists: They act. They keep pushing and experimenting. That’s what makes them heroes.



New York on $70 a Week

New York

Think about the cost of living where you live. Think about what you actually need, financially, to live on. The bare minimum. Does it sound like $70 a week? Probably not. But I’ve done it three times—in New York City.

There was a time when I was very good with money. I still am, to a degree—I use a budget app, pay off my credit card almost monthly, regulate my spending, and prioritize saving. I’m conscious, if not exactly frugal; you learn to be when you’ve lived here flat broke.


I attended Fordham University in the fall of 2008— a few months after the housing market bubble burst and sent my dad, a real estate developer who’d been making risky deals in the up market, into the financial red zone. “Poof” went the money that was supposed to help me get through college in the most expensive city in the country. Naive and a little spoiled, I had believed my dad when he told me I didn’t have to apply for financial aid or work study, that I would be taken care of, and that he “had me.” I thought that my meager waitressing savings would be pocket money, and most other expenses would be covered.

Then I was told, a few days before leaving for the Bronx, “Sorry, sweetie. You’re on your own.” I had $3,000 in my bank account and needed to make it work over nine months in New York.

“Fuck,” was all I could say.

“OK,” I thought. “So what do I need to live on?” Though I hadn’t yet experienced New York’s higher cost of living, I could imagine it. I sat in my dorm the first week and calculated a budget with an accountant’s precision. With $1,500 per semester, and after the cost of schoolbooks, holiday train tickets (I didn’t yet know about the Chinatown bus), and the fee for a new Blackberry (my trusty flip phone died, with perfect timing, one week into school), I was left with $70 per week to spend. I wrote every single thing I spent in a pocket Moleskine, then recorded the weekly totals, plus any other large needs, in a marble notebook; every Sunday, I subtracted and recalculated how long it would be until my money ran out. READ MORE


Billfold Housing Survey: What Obstacles Are Preventing Us From Becoming Homeowners?

carl and ellie homebuyers

This week, we’re looking at the results of our Billfold 10-Question Housing Survey. Today, we’re looking at how many of us want to become homeowners someday and what obstacles are preventing us from getting there.

Here’s some interesting data from the question that asked how many of us wanted to become homeowners: first, 25 percent of survey respondents are already homeowners (yay!) and 41 percent of repondents state that homeownership is one of their life goals.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data released this January, the current U.S. homeowner rate is at 64.5 percent—which represents a 20-year low in U.S. homeownership rates. What might be getting in the way of homebuying? Let’s take a look at our survey data and see how people responded:



“There is no crying on the private wealth management floor”

jane the virgin excitementFebruary is only 28 days long and yet it feels like 34 days, and this winter has clearly already gone on for at least a year and a half, so I will take my good news and inspiring stories wherever I can find them, including from this Bloomberg Businessweek profile of Julissa Arce, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who fought — and occasionally bluffed — her way up through the ranks at Goldman Sachs:

Arce was 11 when she moved to San Antonio from Mexico. Despite arriving with little English, she joined the basketball, softball, cross-country, and dance teams, the student council, a Renaissance club, and two honors societies within a few years. She’s still intense. She likes The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and How to Win Friends & Influence People and is eager to explain, without irony, why they’re illuminating. She does CrossFit and can hold 150 pounds behind her head. “You have to have a very A-type personality,” she says about weightlifting, sipping a beer in Ulysses, a bar three blocks south of Wall Street. “This workout—it’s not going to win. I’m going to win.”

She didn’t have to adjust to Goldman Sachs’s culture of undisguised ambition because she embodied it.

She took a very American approach to the problem of not having papers: READ MORE


Talking to Millennial Homeowners Who Just Bought Their First Home

silver spring md flickr

Today I’m talking to my sister and my brother-in-law, who are 30 and 29 years old respectively and just bought a home in Silver Spring, Maryland.

So. Why did the two of you decide to become homeowners?

Well, we had been “dream looking at houses” for a few months. We had been thinking we would maybe start by getting a nicer apartment for a few years and then get a house. Then we started to look at prices and realized that we could get a house for less than a two-bedroom, or even a one-bedroom, apartment in the same area.

This is interesting because the D.C. metro area is kind of known for its high housing rates! Are you making the distinction between a house and a “good” apartment?

Or will your mortgage be about equivalent to what you are paying now in your “okay” apartment?

The mortgage will actually be less than the rent on our current mediocre one-bedroom apartment. However, we are buying a townhouse that has HOA fees each month, so the total monthly payment will be more than our current situation. But it will definitely be less than even a crappy two-bedroom apartment.

Do you think a lot of young professionals don’t realize this? Or do people just not think of homebuying as an option?

Our townhouse is at the end of the metro line in Maryland, so it’s not in a cool young professional neighborhood. A one-bedroom condo near our current place in DC would be close to twice as much as our townhouse. Also, a lot of young people probably aren’t ready to pay the down payment required for a house purchase.



Tailored Financial Advice

Midvale Company employee Joyce Anderson at desk in Payroll Department, March 1951

Tara Siegel Bernard writes in the Times that financial services companies like Fidelity, which provides employer-based retirement plans for more than 13 million workers, have started to tailor financial advice and messaging to specific demographics: members of generational and income groups, Hispanics, and women. Tailored messaging to women is especially significant since they tend to earn less than men and take longer breaks from the workforce to start families, which can mean fewer dollars in retirement savings when compared to men. Here’s Bernard:

So the often-repeated numbers declaring that the average working man’s 401(k) account balance (about $121,000) is more than 50 percent higher, on average, than a woman’s ($78,000), as calculated by Vanguard, isn’t that surprising. It’s largely because the average wage for male savers in Vanguard plans, at $107,000, is about 40 percent higher than the average for female savers.

But when you look a little closer, an entirely different picture emerges. When you compare women and men who earn the same salaries, women actually save at the same rate — or higher — and their average balances converge (or are slightly higher). But men take the lead in savings once again among male and female workers who earn more than $100,000, according to Vanguard. Even though women are saving at the same rate or more, this suggests men’s wages are higher. Fidelity uncovered strikingly similar trends among its participants.