Friday, November 15, 2013

Home Again, Home Again

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?


  1. What an on point blog! For a nation that has encouraged our children to work hard and obtain advanced degrees, this seems to be a widespread problem. You gave the statistics for academia, but they are the same for law and many of the business degree sub-specialties like marketing. Not only is it frustrating as a parent to see our children struggling to find jobs that utilize their skill sets, but the impact of wasting this talent can't even be predicted in terms of national economy and lifestyle.

  2. This is a sad situation. But another side of the coin. None of my kids got college degrees--though they did take various college classes and they have or have had interesting, challenging and good paying jobs with benefits and able to retire. Eldest daughter was a secretary at the local school district, held several positions from working with the school psychologist, scheduling transportation and schools for homeless kids, and much more. Her husband was a truck driver--both retired and doing well. Second daughter was a school bus driver now the wife of a pastor (works harder at that one with no monetary compensation but loves it), First son, who is no longer with us due to cancer, had a hard time in school but always had a job, last one was as fork-lift mechanic at a WalMart distribution center. Third daughter has also had many jobs, usually bookkeeping, has worked a long time now as a church secretary and loves it. Youngest son also has had many jobs, mostly in construction. Yes, I do think it's a shame anyone who has worked hard for a degree can't find a job--but there are other jobs out there that are worthy and needed.

  3. And as for me I only earned an AA in Early Child Education, but have had some great jobs through the years: taught in a pre-school for children with developmental disabilities for 10 years, taught in day cares for disadvantaged kids, owned and operated and lived in 6 bed facility for developmentally disabled, organized and taught state licensed classes for administrators of these kinds of facilities at the same time. (Oh, and I wrote and was published at the same time.) Not sure what my point is except that I managed to have a wonderfully fulfilling life, several careers without a college degree. No, these kids don't need to work in menial jobs, but they might find some other place to put what they've learned to use that might be more fun and still bring in a good paycheck.