By Scott Barrons
College grads are having a hard time finding jobs.
Watch this dude torch his hard-earned diploma..
While this man may or may not have greater problems than unemployment, all college grads have serious thinking to do. Are tens, even hundreds, of thousands of dollars of debt for an education worth it? Sure, those millions of valuable memories are priceless, but you can easily emerge with no marketable value whatsoever in the workplace. Undergrads are taking sub-poverty-line jobs previously filled by those with only a high school degree or GED, who in turn take whatever work the undergrads can’t stomach. Art History majors: re-think everything! Philosophy majors: stop thinking so intensely! Humanities and Arts degrees are worthless when it comes to finding professional work! And forget about that MFA degree; whether you have little or much experience in the workforce, companies see that and think “This candidate is either overqualified for the position or will expect too much money.”
It used to be that indebted students would have six months of grace time to sweat the job market. In July, 2012, the six-month grace period was eliminated by congress, part of a deal which kept interest rates from doubling, for a year. 10.8 percent of the labor force between the ages of 25 and 26 are unemployed yet the media dangles before us an 8.9 percent fluctuation. The numbers for white members of the labor force are similar to the national averages, but when looking at citizens of color, the averages double.
So why can’t anyone get a job when an alleged 100,000 jobs influx each month? The companies that are growing are financial institutions, energy companies and multi-national communications conglomerates.
Simply put, the Bachelors degree isn’t worth as much as it used to be in the job market.
Nobel Laureate Jason Stiglitz puts it well in a New York Times article, Inequality Is Holding Back the Recovery: “Student debt can almost never be wiped out, even in bankruptcy. A parent who co-signs a loan can’t necessarily have the debt discharged even if his child dies. The debt can’t be discharged even if the school _ operated for profit and owned by exploitative financiers _ provided an inadequate education, enticed the student with misleading promises and failed to get her a decent job.” Consumers of the higher education market are, more often than not, duped by nice web-sites and well-publicized construction projects into believing their for-profit college or university is a good investment, which is not always the case. “The rate… (7.8 percent) appears better partly because so many people have dropped out of the labor force, never entered it or accepted part-time jobs because there was no full-time job for them.” We must be aware that unemployment statistics are used and manipulated for special purposes based on particular bias, as Stiglitz points out.
Naomi Huffman is an Assistant Literary Editor at Newcity Magazine, a name all Chicago writers have come to know. “Columbia represents four years of immense growth, both artistically and personally,” says Huffman, trying to sum up the value of her experience at Columbia College Chicago. “I met an assortment of professors and fellow students _ some very kind, ambitious and talented people. Among this group is the professor who helped me get a last-minute summer internship with Newcity in 2010, which led to two years of occasionally freelancing for the magazine, which led to my current role.” Noami also manifests another edge to the sword: “My ‘day job’ is being an administrative assistant at Paper Source, a print company that specializes in wedding invitations. It’s a lot of data entry and department meetings and cleaning my keyboard and navigating the issues of wedding invitation etiquette, but it’s a paycheck and benefits.”
Naomi, like so many, arrived in Chicago, “Starry-eyed,” as she puts it, armed only with a load of ambition and some mental mutation that makes creatives eccentrics unsuitable for the small towns they emerge from. Being young, fun and charismatic, she made friends, worked hard, was persistent in tackling her goals, and even after four years of school and three in the workforce, she hasn’t arrived yet. “If it’s a practical, straightforward career with a lot of concrete payoffs you want, well, maybe don’t major in Comparative Literature, right?” adds Huffman.
Naomi represents one success story of a sort, but Stiglitz refers to another while implicating this conundrum as one of several main causes for the economic stagnation of the country. “The children of the rich can stay in college or attend graduate school, without accumulating enormous debt or take unpaid internships to beef up their resumes. Not so for those in the middle and bottom,” explains Stiglitiz. He points out a new kind of financial inequality based social Darwinism wherein the college you can afford describes your caste in the future workforce. Ivy Leaguers will be chosen based on their parents’ tax bracket, ensuring they emerge from the collegiate cocoon into the same tax bracket. And the rest of us? “When young people are jobless, their skills atrophy,” he reminds us.
Higher Education is big business. The average price of tuition has risen 900 percent in 10 years. “High unemployment, of course, depresses wages,” reminds Stiglitz, who teaches at Ivy League Columbia University in New York, and, therefore, one can cynically assume, rarely reaches a student from the lower tax brackets. “Adjusted for inflation, real wages have stagnated or fallen; a typical male worker’s income in 2011 ($32,986) was lower than it was in 1968 ($33,880).” That’s right, the average fresh-out-of-college worker will make the same amount as he would have when milk was $1 a gallon and a loaf of bread was 20 cents, when a movie ticket cost $1.50, when it cost six cents to send a letter, when a new car cost less than three thousand and gas was 34 cents a gallon.
Add to the gauntlet personal-budget-crushing student debt, a continuing rage for consumer Reagonmics, imploding markets and outsourced industries, and the high cost of non-commercial food _ working people have much more burden to shoulder as the system spirals out of control and inflation becomes hyper-inflation which becomes omega-inflation (worth ten times as many points to kill). What have we been given to show for our progress, besides Facebook on our phones?
Again we turn to our young, starry-eyed literary editor, Miss Huffman, for the answer: “The word ‘networking’ sometimes makes me cringe, but my connections with professors and fellow students _ some very kind, ambitious, and talented people _ even almost two years after graduation, continue to play a significant role in my life. These are the same people with whom I attend readings and events, who make up a portion of my writing group, and who I sometimes contact regarding assignments for Newcity.”
The diploma is no longer the goal, something even parents are having a hard time accepting. Today’s workplace has no room for half-developed workers, employers are raising their standards each and every month and only those who, like Miss Huffman, are willing to sacrifice incredible time and energy in hopes of someday making a living in a humanist field really have a chance. So instead of asking, “Why is my job-hunt taking so long?” let’s hear something more like “Who needs my expertise at this very moment, and how can I manage the time?”