James Smith, a 2015 graduate of the University of Texas, continues to live at home while working as the manager of a local dry cleaning establishment. He struggles to make his monthly $282 student loan payments, a significant portion of his biweekly take home pay of $807.
With a B.A. in history, James expected to find a job with a research organization or large corporation. He had been reassured by college counselors that history majors were in demand because businesses needed employees who could read and write with critical thinking skills. To his dismay, neither school interviews nor extensive mailings of his resume have resulted in any realistic job offers.
Chris, James’ best friend, disliked school and had no interest in college. With rising oil prices driving up the demand for oil field workers, Chris quickly found work as a roustabout for $18 an hour after high school graduation. Four years later, he is making $60,000 on a drilling crew. Chris has an apartment, a new pickup truck, and money in the bank.
Today, James wonders if college was worth it. He hasn’t found work in his chosen field and still depends on his parents for room and board. He is stuck in a job with few benefits and no prospects for advancement.
Students today are paying more to attend college and earning less when they graduate. Is it still worth the money, effort, and time?
Cost of a College Education
According to The College Board, the average cost of an academic year in an in-state public college in 2015-2016 was $24,061 including room and board. An academic year at a private university averaged $47,831. According to the Complete College America Alliance of States, the number of students graduating with a bachelor’s degree in four years ranges between 19% and 36%, depending on the university.
The average graduate spends an extra half to a full year to graduate (4.4 to 4.9 years), adding to the base costs of attendance. As a consequence, the typical cost of an undergraduate degree is well over $100,000, not including the lost income for the extra years spent in school, or interest incurred in paying back loans.
It’s imperative to determine if the exorbitant price tag is worth it.
Aptitude and Commitment
While college is ideal for some people, it’s not for everyone. In 2015, almost 30% of graduating high school seniors decided not to attend college. Of those who choose to attend, only half graduate within six to eight years, according to the Department of Education.
Harold and Patricia Tucker recently passed their 50th anniversary. There was no celebration.
Married a month after their high school graduation, Patricia worked as a secretary in a local law firm to help Harold attend law school. Harold went on to climb the corporate ladder, becoming the chief counsel of a major insurance company by age 44. Unable to get pregnant, they adopted two children: John and Elizabeth.
Disaster stuck when Harold was 58. After experiencing memory problems, speaking difficulties, and bouts of physical pain, doctors suggested a series of tests, culminating in a biopsy of the brain. He was diagnosed with Pick’s disease.
There is no known cure for Pick’s disease, which attacks the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. The symptoms include dementia, memory loss, and loss of motor control, typically leading to death within eight to ten years. Patients often spend their final days in an assisted living facility.
Pick’s disease intensified Harold’s constant pain. Relief only came from heavy drug usage and semi-consciousness.
The Dilemma of a Fatal Disease
Terminal conditions are devastating. Life turns upside down – even the values held for a lifetime can be questioned. Psychologists claim that no one copes with impending death in the same manner, although many go through a variation of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
As Harold’s symptoms increased, he was forced to resign from his job, relying on Patricia for his day-to-day care. Every movement sent spasms of pain through his body, necessitating a daily regiment of opioid pills and patches. The side effects of the medication were almost as bad as the pain itself, with bouts of severe constipation, stomach aches, and drowsiness. The need for Patricia to handle his most intimate hygiene needs confirmed his helplessness.
Rather than spend his last days in pain, using up the savings intended for his wife and family, Harold determined that his life would end on his terms – not at the whim of some disease.
What actions would you take if diagnosed with a fatal, debilitating disease such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Alzheimer’s disease? Many believe that they would prefer to die on their terms, rather than endure the ravages of disease. Others accept continued life, despite the emotional and financial costs for their survivors.
Few realize that they do not have a choice if the situation arises, especially if they live in 45 of the 50 United States or the District of Columbia, where assisted suicide is illegal. In the five remaining right-to-die states – California, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington – the right to control the circumstances of your death is strictly controlled.
Public lotteries have a long history. From Caesar Augustus (where tickets had prizes of slaves, real estate, and ships) to European governments during the Middle Ages (which relied heavily on lotteries for revenue), state-run lotteries have continually proven lucrative, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Not surprisingly, the United States of America also has a long history of lotteries. Considered “voluntary taxes,” early lotteries were used to fund new colleges such as Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, and Brown. In 1745, the General Court of Massachusetts passed an act allowing a lottery to pay off costs defending the colony’s frontier and seacoasts. By 1831, eight states held 420 lotteries.
Today, lotteries are the most popular form of gambling in the United States, with two times as many annual participants as those who visit a casino. A Gallup Research Poll indicates that nearly 50% of Americans buy state lottery tickets each year. The majority of participants have a technical, college or post-graduate degree, earning more than $36,000 a year.
The popularity of gambling has also been global, with numerous governments taking a cut. One of the longest-running lotteries was the Irish Sweepstakes from 1930 to 1987, the revenues of which benefited Ireland’s public hospitals. A state-run lottery managed by the country’s postal system replaced the Sweepstakes, providing more than £30 million for government-sponsored projects each week. According to the United Kingdom’s official National Lottery website, more than £1,901 million ($2.37 billion in U.S. dollars) has funded 500,000 projects since its origination in 1994.
According to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries (NAASPL), more than $110 billion of lottery tickets were sold in the United States in 2015. Roughly $33 billion of that was redirected to state and local governments. According to figures compiled by the U.S. Treasury Department, that represents approximately one-tenth of the Federal Government’s annual revenues from corporate taxes ($344 billion) and slightly more than 2% of the $1.5 trillion received from individual income taxes.
With huge participation rates and billions in revenue, redirecting lottery funds can make a significant impact. As the national debt continues to rise, many have called for a national lottery, with proceeds spent paying down debt.
Is it time to offer a national lottery in the United States to retire the National Debt?
The Growing National Debt
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the total U.S. national debt will be $20 trillion by the end of 2016, a 347% increase since 2000. Many economists consider only the debt held by the public in their calculations, discounting the effect of intra-government holdings (an estimated $5.5 trillion at the end of the year). The majority of the intra-governmental holdings are in the Medicare and Social Security Trust Funds, as well as the Federal Financing Bank securities.
Renting versus buying can be a difficult choice. Still, according to The Wall Street Journal, almost two-thirds of American households own homes. Many more own rental properties or second vacation homes. By contrast, a Gallup Poll found that only one-half of Americans own stocks.
Home equity is the foundation of personal wealth in the United States, representing about two-thirds of net worth for most American households, per Bloomberg. The expansion of home ownership has been stimulated by government programs and tax advantages to incentivize the purchase of houses. According to a study in Social Forces, home ownership leads to “a stronger economy, better schools, and an invested, proactive citizenry.” Homeowners have higher voting rates and are more involved in civic organizations.
Owning real estate has some unique financial advantages. For example, homeowners can deduct their mortgage interest, mortgage insurance premiums, and property taxes from ordinary income. Also, proceeds from the sale of a house are treated as capital gains for taxes – up to $250,000 of the gain can be excluded from income for a single taxpayer or $500,000 for a couple filing a joint return.
Owning a home or investment real estate offers huge advantages to both society and you individually. Here’s how to get the most out of your investment.
Real Estate as an Investment
Owning an investment property is significantly different than owning the property in which one lives. While investors share many common risks – illiquidity, lack of transparency, political and economic uncertainty – each investment property is unique, varying by use, location, improvement, and permanence. Each investment can be subject to a bewildering collection of tax rules, all of which affect the net return on investment.
Andy Heller, co-author of “Buy Even Lower: The Regular People’s Guide to Real Estate Riches,” notes that most people pay too much for their properties: “The profit is locked in immediately once the investor buys the property. Due to mistakes in analysis, the investor pays too much and then is surprised when he doesn’t make any money.”
Heller advises that success in real estate investing requires: