Unemployment and the young

20 Nov

What are we supposed to tell our young people?

One of my “hot button” topics is student debt.  We have created a society where higher education is necessary to access jobs with livable wages, but tuition has now climbed so high that many students graduate burdened with so much debt that they can’t afford their basic expenses, if they’re even lucky enough to find a job.  Tuition is spiraling out of control.  For example, the University of California schools have increased their tuition 300% over the last 10 years.**  That number is particularly meaningful to me– I started college a little over ten years ago.

Paula Gregorowicz wrote a thought provoking article on BlogHer, about the enormous college debts students are amassing these days (not even considering the cost of graduate or professional school).  She wonders, if higher education is so expensive, is it worth the money to go to college? My humble opinion, yes, it remains necessary.  Job candidates are often immediately filtered out simply because they lack a diploma.  To make it to the stage where a potential employer even reads the content of your resume, you need a college degree.

I’m not too far out of college, but I feel like so much has changed.  When I was in college, there were majors that you could pursue, and likely obtain a job afterward.  Engineering, accounting, and computer science (not information science, though) were all fields where you were likely to come out of college and be able to find a job.  Students like me, who majored in German with certificates in Children’s Literature and Western European Studies, came out of school knowing a lot of stories and having no hope of employment at much other than a temp agency (which often meant “hello, law school!”).

As the economy sinks lower and lower, even that distinction appears to be fading. NPR recently ran a piece about a college graduate, who was an accounting major, who hasn’t been able to find work in the 10 months since he graduated, and has taken to the streets wearing a sandwich board demanding “HIRE ME!”

So what are we supposed to tell the students?  I have a brother currently in college, majoring in music education and music performance.  My (unsolicited) advice to him over the last few years has been that he better tag on another major, because K-12 schools are cutting music programs left and right, so there’s no job waiting for him when he’s done.

Now that the “employable” majors aren’t finding work, either, does it even matter what he studies? Is it futile? Does the future inevitably hold many years of living with the parents and working at Starbucks because it offers benefits?

I can’t even begin to wrap my head around the bigger problem here– fixing student debt, and getting young people to work in jobs that provide livable wages.  The practical question is: What do we tell the college students now? Do we tell them “it’ll all be ok” even though we know it won’t? Do we bother to push them towards majors that they may not be interested in, even though they also hold little prospect for employment?

**That link is to an article in the UC Santa Barbara student newspaper, but I’ve seen the figure in several news reports.

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3 Responses to “Unemployment and the young”

  1. Sandy November 20, 2011 at 2:36 pm #

    I think our kids will be in better shape than the kids now because all the Baby Boomers will be dead so their refusal to retire while sucking up Social Security and Medicare will be a non issue. The country will have no money, bod course, but at least there will be jobs.

  2. beezuskiddo November 20, 2011 at 2:58 pm #

    But the Baby Boomers’ kids (i.e. us) will likewise refuse to retire (but by then the medicare and social security will probably be all gone…) so by then we’ll be hogging up our kids potential jobs, so I don’t know if that will help all that much.

    • Sandy November 20, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

      That may be true, but there are fewer of us.

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