RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

A Jobless Recovery is a Terrible Waste

The farther we move down this path of the jobless “recovery” which we might as well admit is a job-killing “recovery” that kills jobs so that Wall Street corporations can thrive, the more it becomes obvious that we need an entirely new paradigm of how to spend the years that stretch before each of us at birth. The old system that emerged with industrializaion meant that children received educations, first education at home and later education in a school. Tax-supported primary schools have been followed by tax-supported high schools, then colleges.

While we might argue about the outcomes of the contemporary educational system, we probably agree that an educated population is important. We want people who can read, do math, know some history and understand our culture. This is true whether we’re in business, religion, the arts. And, as a culture, we need shared experiences and shared knowledge.

But, when it comes to so-called higher education, let the discussions begin. Colleges — and college debt — are where we need to do the most immediate fixing. Although I’ve spent my professional career as a college teacher, and it’s been a great, stimulating life, I and all my colleagues are increasingly worried about kids entering life with loads of college debt. Kids can graduate with $60,000, $80,000, $100,000 in debt and graduate into a field where there are virtually no jobs opening. “Americans now owe more on their student loans than they do on their credit cards,” says CNBC, “With debt now growing at a rate of $2,853.88 per second, it will surpass $1 trillion in 2012.”

Internships might keep their brains going, but these pay little or nothing and often turn out to be exploitive. On March 3, the New York Times ran “The No-Limits Job,” which focused on entry-level jobs and internships for 20-somethings. “We need to hire a 22-22-22,” the article quotes one manager, “meaning a 22-year-old willing to work 22-hour days for $22,000 a year.” Subtract rent, food, communications and mileage from that and there’s nothing left for debt payment. Dispirited and disheartened, a lot of these kids are returning home and just hanging out.

Still, according to the Wall Street Journal, investing in college debt continues at a brisk pace. Lenders enjoy a 95% collection rate and are able to raise interest rates at will if payments are missed. Sort of like a Payday Loan system, bleeding the well-intentioned helpless ones.

Part of the problem is that college kids have no experience in budgets, nor did they understand about paying interest. When I show them websites that figure how much interest accrues when they put something on their charge cards — maybe pizza and beer for all their friends — they’re shocked. When I tell them that they’ll be paying for that pizza and beer for years to come, they generally go into denial. I have to wonder if their parents get it either. So, step one is to beef up the consumer education classes and repeat the information every semester for the kids and their parents.  And, dear reader, if you have kids, talk to them about money and debt.

Working as wait staff somewhere, the college-educated kids (or their parents, who have perhaps co-signed the loans) might get desperate enough for an occupation that they apply to grad school. That is, they might accumulate more debt with virtually no meaningful job experience in their fields. This generation is, truthfully, the first to have this kind of issue before them. Even in the days when women were entering the workforce in record numbers, with few jobs open to us, we carried little debt. In fact, banks refused to lend to us or to issue credit cards or mortgages! Trust me! I’m an authority on this!

So, what to do? There are a couple of answers. First of all, parents, you need to stop expecting the kids to move in lockstep from grade to grade and on to higher education. While it might have been a good plan when the economy was producing jobs at a brisk pace, education is too expensive—and important—to enter lightly. Let the kids have a year or two on their own to start work, save some money, learn a little bit about life. This may seem like wheel-spinning time, when nothing is happening for them, but the kids I know who are taking time off are finding things they love to do.

For some, this might mean that they never get to college, or that they pursue the dream of an education when they are older adults. It may be that they start working some place and luck into a career they like and that doesn’t take a college degree. Maybe they find a boss who is willing to foot the bill to have someone trained in a specialized field. Not the end of the world, dear reader, to have a kid happily employed.

If they end up at home, make a deal sort of like this one: You can live here as long as you have occupations. Take classes at the community center in cooking, carpentry, computers, whatever. Or take a class at the local college, and learn something fun.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. She blogs at Email:

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2013

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