My youngest son has moved back home, and much as he loves us, he’s not happy about it. He finds himself in the position in which so many young people who’ve done everything parents and society have told them to do find themselves—well-educated with excellent grades and college leadership experience and no jobs. And heavy student loans.
Joseph’s lucky. He had full scholarships In undergraduate and fellowships in graduate school, so his student loans are nowhere near as large as those his friends are carrying. But he spent one full year studying abroad and went to England on several research trips, as well as traveling to national conferences to present scholarly papers (all an absolute must anymore if you’re looking for an academic job), and his scholarships didn’t cover all of that, so he had to take student loans.
Universities have been phasing out full-time, tenure-track faculty positions over the last decade or two. Where part-time, contingent faculty used to make up less than 30% of faculty nationally, now they are over 70% of the teachers at universities and colleges. Even as tuition has gone sky-high, the students paying it are being taught by part-time adjunct faculty who usually have no campus offices or telephones and are paid less than the lowest level clerical worker at their schools, having to cobble together multiple classes at several universities to make a minimal income (with no benefits) and racing from one place to another each day and week.
My son is also looking for non-academic jobs, but there he runs into a twin difficulty that’s almost an oxymoron—he has no applicable experience yet he’s considered overqualified. And again, a whole generation of young people are facing this same double bind.
This leads me to wonder how we as a country came to this point of failing our children. As individual parents and as a society, we’ve stressed to them, “Work hard. Stay in school. Go to college. Get good grades. That’s the road to success in life.” So what do we say when our kids have done all of this, and they’re faced with jobs that require they also apply for food stamps?
I don’t have any answers to these questions, but I know they’re questions we need to be asking and finding answers to as a society. If all we want is a nation of underpaid fast-food/TargMart /AmazGiant warehouse workers, what are we turning ourselves into? And why do we even bother with schools of any kind?
Do you have any young people in your life? What do they feel about what they’re facing economically? What do you think about it?