Terrance Heath

Economy of Desperation: The 'Sugar Daddy' Solution

Filed By Terrance Heath | August 12, 2011 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: American economy, sugar daddy

In the new economy, we may all need a “sugar daddy.”

And, no, I don’t mean the candy.

“People will find a way,” has been Republicans’ constant refrain for the past year or so, in their ceaseless targeting vital programs and services for deep cuts, in order toprotect the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Cut unemployment benefits, refuse to extend them, and “people will find a way” to support themselves. Cut food assistance and “people will find a way” to feed themselves.

Thus, it’s conceivable that the same refrain was heard from Republicans who objected to John Boehner’s debt ceiling bill because it increased Pell Grants instead of cutting them. Cut assistance for low-income to go to college, and they will “find a way” to pay for their tuition.

Well, maybe that’s true -- if turning tricks to pay tuition counts as “finding a way.”

I call it “the Sugar Daddy” solution.

With every recession, the stories of students turning to stripping, sex work and “sugar daddy” relationships in order to pay their school bills and loans begin to proliferate in the media and in popular culture.

Times are tougher now for students than almost any time before in recent memory. Even Pell Grants have been under threat during the debt ceiling negotiations, while student loans are increasingly mounting, and a once-crucial bachelor’s degree is hardly a fast-ticket to economic security in this economy. Higher education, as Sarah Jaffe reported recently, is a bubble about to burst, leaving students indebted and jobless and in dire straits.

Journalist Mac McLelland memorably wrote about her experience venturing into the sugar daddy realm online in 2008. At the time, she noted that she was not alone:

Clearly I’m not the only one intrigued by such a setup. Every time I log on to SugarDaddy.com (a.k.a. SugarDaddyForMe.com), around 2,000 other members are also online. SeekingArrangement.com, “The meeting place for mutually beneficial relationships,” has 100,000 users. Sugardaddie.com, “Where the classy, attractive and affluent can meet,” has 200,000. “These websites make it very efficient,” says historian Ruth Rosen, the author of a book on prostitution. “Because it’s very clear; you don’t have to use coded language.”

McLelland’s three-year-old story prefigures Amanda M. Fairbanks’ recent piece in HuffPo, which focuses mostly on one site, SeekingArrangement.com, now up to 800,000 users from the 100,000 McLelland reported. Fairbanks’ story focuses not just on the monetary benefits young women might reap from such an arrangement, but how necessary those infusions of assistance are in this downturn. Fairbanks profiles a young woman named “Taylor” who took desperate measures in desperate times.

… faced with about $15,000 in unpaid tuition and overdue bills, Taylor and her roommate typed “tuition,” “debt,” and “money for school” into Google. A website called SeekingArrangement.com popped up. Intrigued by the promise of what the site billed as a “college tuition sugar daddy,” Taylor created a “sugar baby” profile and eventually connected with the man from Greenwich….

Saddled with piles of student debt and a job-scarce, lackluster economy, current college students and recent graduates are selling themselves to pursue a diploma or pay down their loans. An increasing number, according to the the owners of websites that broker such hook-ups, have taken to the web in search of online suitors or wealthy benefactors who, in exchange for sex, companionship, or both, might help with the bills.

Fairbanks reports on these sites capitalizing on the “exploding” number of students registering for membership: giving them “college” badges on their profiles, upgrading their memberships for free, and so on. This fits into the new economic reality: student who took out huge loans hoping for high-paying jobs and watching the jobs disappear. (For the older male members on the site, the chance to hook up with young, educated women is worth the cash they pay.)

For the sake of protecting tax cuts for the wealthy and tax loopholes for their corporate sponsors, Republicans actually considered driving the economy over a cliff, to cut a program intended to help low-income students go to college. Not that it hasn’t already been cut.

Yesterday, a number of groups, including Campus Progress and The Education Trust, came together for "Save Pell Day." The reason? Pell's in trouble. The budget passed by the House earlier this year reduced the maximum grant by 45 percent, kicking about 1.5 million students out of the program. Representative Paul Ryan's proposal for next year reduces the grant a comparable amount. And in the debt-reduction talks, Pell has repeatedly come up as an area prime for cuts.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Pell grant program, it is money paid directly to low-income, qualifying students who can then put it toward tuition and college expenses. Unlike student loans, it does not have to be paid back. Pell's size has increased roughly 150 percent from 2005-2006 to 2010-2011--from $14.4 to $34.4 billion. The program is about 30 years old and is one of the signature pieces of federal loan legislation--you could call it the "social security" or "medicare" of college access.

So, no surprise, Republicans are trying to cut it. In hearings earlier this year, House Republicans complained that the size of the grant is driving the cost of college up. No matter that only one reputable study has investigated the question, and the results found virtually no correlation between the grant and tuition costs. In fact, the Pell grant covers roughly one-third the annual cost of a four-year public college--a few decades ago, it covered three-fourths the cost. Pell is lagging behind the trend of increased college tuition, not leading it.

Maybe the Republicans who wanted to cut Pell Grant funding figured the 1.5 million students who would be kicked out of the program could “find a way” to pay for tuition without government aid. Maybe they think sites like SugarDaddyForMe.Com and Seeking Arrangements.Com were “market-based solutions” for students needing help with tuition or student loans. Sure, it may not exactly square with “family values” conservatives, but the Rand-loving libertarian wing may not object.

I’m guessing this isn’t quite the “trickle down” conservatives had in mind. But maybe this is how what failed to “trickle down” before finally starts flowing. Maybe this is what the wealthy are doing with the wealth recouped from their economic recovery. (We’re still waiting for ours.) It has to be, because we know they have’t invested in the economy. Maybe this is how economic recovery finally “trickles down” to the rest of us. Maybe this is how tax cuts stimulate economic growth, since they’ve failed so far. And it all gets done without collective bargaining!

Somehow, I don’t think these are the new “service jobs” people had in mind, and almost certainly not what they “family values” wing of the GOP had in mind. But it’s what their policies ultimately lead too -- at least until young people give up trying to educate themselves for jobs that don’t exist for them in this recession.

The unemployment picture looks bad for everyone, but it’s especially bleak for young workers.

The unemployment rate for young workers between ages 16 to 24 has skyrocketed as millions of young people have lost jobs and school enrollment has steadily increased over the past decade.

The jobless rate nearly doubled among young workers to a peak of 19 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009 and has remained high, averaging 17.4 percent in the second quarter of this year, compared with 6.7 percent for older workers and 9.1 percent for all workers.

At the same time, the proportion of workers 55 and older in the workforce has increased as the Baby Boom generation ages and older workers are delaying retirement, especially following huge drops in home values and investments during the recession.

The problem isn't that older people are taking jobs from youth, said Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). He tells the Daily Labor Report:

What's keeping young people from getting jobs is not competition from other people but a lousy economy that nobody seems to be doing anything about.

Younger workers are trying to get a foothold, and when there are no jobs being created it's hard for them to get a foothold.

Well, it’s not exactly that there are “no jobs being created.” The problem is that nowhere near enough jobs are being created to pull the economy out of recession; certainly not enough for everyone who needs one to find one. The ratio of job seekers to job openings has been around 4.3:1 for 29 months, meaning that “for nearly two-and-a-half years, there has been no available job for at least three out of four unemployed workers.” As of May 2011, that ratio was 4.7:1.

And nearly all the new jobs created are low-wage.

There's more unhappy news for the millions of Americans hoping for a surge in the number of good, high-paying jobs -- a new report concludes that the great bulk of new jobs created since the economic recovery began are in lower-wage occupations, paying $13.52 or less an hour.

The report by the National Employment Law Project, a liberal research and advocacy group, found that while 60 percent of the jobs lost during the downturn were in midwage occupations, 73 percent of the jobs added since the recession ended had been in lower-wage occupations, like cashier, stocking clerk or food preparation worker.

According to the report, "The Good Jobs Deficit," the number of jobs in midwage and high-wage occupations remains significantly below the prerecession peak, while the number of jobs in lower-wage occupations has climbed back close to its former peak.

For those fortunate enough to hold on to jobs, the recession still isn’t a cakewalk. Thanks to the Great American Speed-Up and the wageless recovery, we’re working harder, faster, and longer for less.

This is after decades of stagnant wages and a skyrocketing cost of living, parallelled by skyrocketing CEO compentation. Corporate executives saw their pay increase 27% last year, compared to just 2.1% for … well … everybody else. And while the highest paid CEOs did boost their companies’ profits, they did it not by creating new business (and thus new jobs), but via cost-cutting and layoffs. Workers spared the axe, thus, work harder, faster, and longer, for less. And in today’s no-quit economy, what else are ya gonna do? Where else are ya gonna go?

Meanwhile, the GOP’s plan to get the economy moving again is lower wages even further. In other words, not even minumum wage but minimal wages.

If current trends continue, we look back nostalgically on these days -- when the words “vacation” and “paid sick leave” were still part of our vocabulary. We’re working harder, faster, and longer for less now, but in the future that may be the the standard employer demand: “Harder! Faster! Longer! Less!” (less pay, that is).

And if you’re lucky enough to have a job, you’ll put up with it, because you can’t quit. After all, there are many who would gladly do your job for even less than you get paid to do it, and you’re already earning as little as you can an still manage to survive.

If you’re young, you’ll be lucky to have any job. You may even still have hope for a better future. You may be so grateful that you don’t have to sell your body to make a living that you’ll put up with anything to keep from having to go back to that.

If you’re older than 50, you’ll know that you’re one step away from joining the permanent underclass. And at your age there will be no hope of every working again. Facing old age is one thing. Even if you have to work until you die, it’s better than facing a desperate old age, with no income and no hope of any. Your optionswill be limited, then, if you’re too old to sell your body.

The competition for Sugar Daddies (or Sugar Mamas, as the case may be) is likely to be fierce, given that about 6.5 million young people graduate into an economy that has nothing for them, at least nothing that can begin to pay off the loans they took out back when college was an investment in a better job, etc. There aren’t going to be enough sugar daddies to go around. And that’s particularly troubling, considering that finding one is probably going to be more important than finding a job.

Oddly enough, the “Sugar Daddy Solution” probably won’t make any lists of how Americans are coping in this recession. But, then, neither do a lot of the things people are doing to survive the Great Recession.

What are people doing or willing to do to survive in this recession? Desperate times, as the saying goes, call for desperate measures.


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It's a scary place to be in when you're basically having to sell your body to get by, but when I was laid off from my job in college, I remember making a short-term similar arrangement. Few things have been scarring as participating in that sort of 'relationship', and thinking "Well, if I don't follow through, I get evicted, if I'm lucky enough to not get kicked out of school." Where is the help for students? Our future is being sold for pork-barrel politics.

Gee thanks! I'm 56, trans, and using Pell/ student loans to reeducate myself. I do get the feeling the Republicans would like me to fade away and die. It would save money on my pell grants, future Medicare and future Social Security. I guess I sound a bit down. Just recieved my AA in Social Work and still have over four years to go to recieve the degree I need. I will continue the good fight but I do feel it is about to get harder.