Thursday, September 05, 2013

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses: Youth unemployment!

The contractual work year in the academic world in which I live begins in ten days.  As I put together the syllabi for the courses that I am scheduled to teach, I, yet again, struggle with how to make the subject appeal to the students who, for the most part, treat any of the courses as merely a hurdle to get past on the way to the "real world" in which they will attempt to realize that fabled American Dream.

I am tempted to contact a few students from the past years and inquire about their economic status, and whether their faith in the college degree as the passport to economic success has worked out.  But, I am afraid the responses will be along the lines of unemployment and underemployment, with very few excitedly reporting about their jobs.  There is a good chance that some of them tried to escape the bleak employment scenario by going to graduate school, which I would have warned them not to if I had any say at all.

It is one tough world out there for the young and the restless.
Consider the bleak prospects of young people entering the workforce today: the portion of people aged twenty to twenty-four who have jobs has fallen from 72.2 percent in 2000 to just 61.5 percent. Meanwhile, if we adjust for inflation, the median earnings of men between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four working full-time has fallen by nearly 30 percent since 1973. For women, the median has fallen by 17 percent. As Andy Sum, an economist at Northeastern University who has studied youth unemployment for many years, has shown, if you are out of work or underemployed during those initial years of adulthood, chances are far higher you will be unemployed, poor, or dependent on welfare later on.
  If that is the American story, how are the youth in the rest of the world?

At least we are not Spain will not be a consolation to that eager-beaver 22-year old feeling discouraged about the job market.  It could get worse for them in the long haul:
people who begin their careers without work are likely to have lower wages and greater odds of future joblessness than those who don’t. A wage penalty of up to 20%, lasting for around 20 years, is common. The scarring seems to worsen fast with the length of joblessness and is handed down to the next generation, too.
The overall ageing of the population might blunt this effect by increasing demand for labour. But Japan’s youth joblessness, which surged after its financial crisis in the early 1990s, has stayed high despite a fast fall in the overall workforce. A large class of hikikomori live with their parents, rarely leaving home and withdrawn from the workforce.
So, at least we are not Japan. Yet.

There is something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear.

Thus, I will try, in some twisted Groundhog Day ways, to attempt to convey to students that higher education and college degree were never meant to be any kind of a professional guild and that the whole system is not necessarily geared towards maximizing the students' welfare.

I will warn them not to listen to faculty, in particular.  I will then follow it up with how the advice from a faculty not to listen to faculty is a neat paradox.  If they listened to that advice, then they will not listen to anything I say the rest of the term.  On the other hand, if they did not pay attention to that advice, then they have lost out on that observation.

The good thing is that most will not be interested even in that humorous take because higher education has done a fantastic job of making sure that the mission is not about critical thinking anymore.

No, I am not being cranky!


Ramesh said...

A subject you have written on a few times and one that resonates with me. Part of the problem is that we oldies have stacked the odds against the youth. Unions protect all the jobs of the old who have managed to get in and deal an awful hand to the youth who are trying to get in.

Sriram Khé said...

It is very clear then what we have to do: you and I should team up and set the world straight ;)

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