Monthly Archives: September 2014

College Economics: 1978 vs 2014


1978minimumwage_collegeCould a student that worked a summer minimum wage job make enough to pay a year’s tuition in 1978? If someone was to work a full-time summer job today, how much would the minimum wage need to be?

In 1978, the minimum wage was $2.65. Working a full-time summer job (40 hrs x 12 weeks) would gross $1,272.

I couldn’t find the average tuition for a four-year degree in 1978, but in 1981 it was $3,951.

That 1978 summer job would only pay 32.1% of that tuition bill, leaving one $2,679 short. The claim that working a summer job at minimum wage would pay a year’s tuition is obviously false.

Fast forward to 2014. What will minimum wage get you?

Working a summer job at today’s minimum wage of $7.25 would gross $3,489.

The average annual tuition in 2012 was $33,716 (2012 is the most recent data I could find). A full-time summer job in 2012 would only pay 10.3% of that tuition.

Granted, $7.25 today is not equal to $2.65 in 1978. 1978’s $2.65 per hour, when adjusted for inflation, would equal $9.69/hour today; that means $2.65 in 1978 was worth 33% more than $7.25 is worth in 2014.

The average annual tuition in 1981 was $3,951. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $9,554 (in 2012). The average yearly tuition in 2012 came to $33,716. That’s a whopping 352% increase in tuition costs.

Today’s minimum wage rate lags behind the wage in 1978. What is extraordinary, however, is the exponential increase in college tuition.

To earn $33,716 working a minimum wage job full time during the summer break, the minimum wage would need to be $70.24.


Historical minimum wage data:

Education costs:

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