Thursday, September 29, 2011

Earning a Living

Earning a Living
By Christopher Orlet on 9.29.11 @ 6:07AM

Do college grads even deserve a meaningful career?

Journalists. They can turn the most benign trend into a national crisis. Normally they reserve their Chicken-Littleism for when there's a Republican in the White House. These days they can't wait. They may be out of a job by time the Obamas are sent packing. Hopefully in January 2013.

The current crisis is said to grip those the press has dubbed -- rather unoriginally -- the "Lost Generation," i.e., middle-class teens and twentysomethings. According to new Census figures, "only 55 percent of Americans aged 16 to 29 have jobs." Tell me about it. My kid recently turned 18. At least my Mac works on occasion.

Being wordsmiths, journalists are expert at shading the truth. Almost as expert as con men and politicians. But no one in his right mind believes nearly half of those under 30 are shuffling along some Skid Row bread line. The fact is most people between 16 and 29 are, like my kid, still in school. Or working part time. Or, if they live in my neighborhood, sponging off some idiot young woman with three kids. What's more, they are likely blissfully free from all of the normal adult trappings: marriage, children, and mortgages. So as long as they can scrape together enough to pay their iPhone bill and order stuffed-crust pizza seven days a week they are happy as fried clams.

Reading these stories one gets the sense an editor wrangled a reporter and said, "Here, take these clichés: 'Grim outlook.' 'Lost Generation.' 'Collective hopelessness.' Now write a nation-in-crisis piece. We go to press in three minutes."

Not to be outdone, the New York Times has fabricated another cliché: the Ivy League graduate on welfare. The Times recently ran a piece featuring a Dartmouth grad who claims that six of her former classmates are surviving on food stamps. Predictably, all of these Ivy grads earned hot, in-demand degrees in recession-proof sectors like conceptual art, English literature, and advertising, where they learned valuable, real-world skills like writing lyrical verse or jingles for Oscar Meyer wiener commercials. Quoth the Dartmouth grad: "We did everything we were supposed to."

Not quite. You were supposed to learn something pragmatic, useful and mind-numbingly boring for your quarter-of-a-million-dollar tuition. Like market research analysis, or software engineering. Art and dance is great fun -- if you're a girl -- but few Fortune 500 talent acquisition managers will hire you because you can pirouette on cue. The Ivy Leaguer says she now plans to do what every hopelessly unemployed Humanities major in the country does eventually. She's going to law school.

THE AIM OF these supposedly tragic news stories is to convince the extremely gullible that free market capitalism is deader than 4 a.m. I mean, if Ivy Leaguers have to survive on government cheese, what chance does a cow college graduate have?

But in telling these tales of woe, the journalists are inevitably tripped up by their uncooperative subjects who appear to be having a great time of it, tending bar, playing in punk rock bands, joining the Peace Corps, living eight to a flat, or touring the country in an old Chevy minivan. ("No career? No prospects? No worries!") The Times calls these people victims of bad timing. In my youth we called them slackers. Today, they call themselves the "funemployed."

Of course, the real unemployment crisis is found among the working classes where people still hold not high-powered careers, but menial jobs. The average working man doesn't have a Daddy Warbucks to fund his funemployment. He is also more likely to be married with children. Yet the media largely ignores him and focuses instead on middle class college graduates. Somehow the vagaries of the free market seem worse when dweebs with degrees fail to find meaningful careers than when steel workers get laid off.

Today every Joe Suburb with a sheepskin thinks he is entitled to a corner office and a smoking hot secretary. Such an annoying sense of entitlement used to be reserved solely for the welfare class. I don't know any autoworker who thinks just because he knows a thing or two about punching out Chryslers he is owed a living. And if he doesn't get one he is going to move back in with mommy and daddy. At least until they start charging him rent.

No doubt it is their own fear of losing their meaningful careers that drive these high-powered journalists to obsessively rehash the phony Lost Generation -- Yale grads-on-welfare bromide. To them I would say, no worries. You can always join a punk rock band.

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