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Finding a Job in the 21st Century Global Economy

by Susan Ohanian

Scene: Mr. Haycox, a farmer is talking to two real estate agents. They both have PhD's, as is normal for middle class people.

"Call yourself a doctor, too, do you? said Mr. Haycox.

"I think I can say without fear of contradiction that I earned that degree," said Doctor Pond cooly. "My thesis was the third longest in any field in the country that year--eight hundred and ninety-six pages, double-spaced, with narrow margins."

"Real-estate salesman," said Mr. Haycox. He looked back and forth between Paul and Doctor Pond, waiting for them to say something worth his attention. When they'd failed to rally after twenty seconds, he turned to go. "I'm doctor of cowshit, pigshit, and chickenshit," he said. "When you doctors figure out what you want, you'll find me out in the barn shoveling my thesis."

--Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut, published in 1952.

Remember the premise of the Vonnegut book as you read on. Recap: In The Piano Player a tiny group of wealthy and powerful managers and engineers run things. Most people, stripped of good jobs, are powerless menials.

Stephen Krashen observes that the next step is to force farmers like Mr. Haycox to get PhDs. he could write a dissertation on, for example, "The symbolism of dairy farming in Thomas Hardy's Tess: Was Angel Clare a lacto-vegetarian?"

Now here's a news item from the New York Times:

She was turned down for a waitress's job at an Applebee's restaurant because she had not finished college, she said, a rejection that still makes her shake her head. "Can you believe they wanted a degree just to wait tables?"

-- New York Times, Neediest Cases, Dec. 24, 2009

Get that? "Some college," the President Obama/Arne Duncan mantra, is not enough. The fact of the matter is that no matter what today's worker does, it will never be enough.


That's how the elites have planned it.

Picking up where the inflammatory (and bogus) A Nation at Risk left off, today's Standardistos insist that the 21st Global Economy requires all students to have "some college." In Schools as Scapegoats, Lawrence Mishel and Richard Rothstein make this point:

The Tough Choices report bemoans the fact that "Indian engineers make $7,500 a year against $45,000 for an American engineer with the same qualifications" and concludes from this that we can compete with the Indian economy only if our engineers are smarter than theirs. This is silly: No matter how good our schools, American engineers won't be six times as smart as those in the rest of the world. Nonetheless, Marc Tucker, author of Tough Choices (and president of [The National Center on Education and the Economy] the group that produced the 1990 report as well), asserts, "The fact is that education holds the key to personal and national economic well-being, more now than at any time in our history."

Mishell and Rothstein point out, as do many other people who bother to check the facts, that College graduates are, in fact, not in short supply. There's even a new term for what happens when they cannot find jobs in their chosen field: Mal-employment: recent college grads working low-skill jobs. Taking a job at Applebee's.

New monthly survey data from the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston finds that during the first four months of 2009, 49.9 percent of the nation's 4 million college graduates age 25 and under were working in jobs that required a college degree. That's down from 54 percent for same period last year.

Research has shown that college graduates who take jobs below their education level not only earn less, but also can take years to match the earnings of graduates who land career-track employment upon graduation.

These so called "mal-employed" workers also compound the unemployment problem by taking jobs that non-college graduates and even high school students are often qualified to hold.

The problem of "mal-employment" --working outside one's field of education, training and choice -- has increased sharply for college grads since the recession began, and all signs suggest the trend will continue for the foreseeable future.
--Today@Colorado State University, June 26, 2009

"I've never seen it this low and we've been analyzing this stuff for over 20 years," Center for Labor Market Studies director Andrew Sum told McClatchy Newspapers, June 29, 2009.

When college graduates can't find jobs in the field for which they have a degree, then they take any work they can find, such as waitressing at Applebee's. This is the reality of the push by the Business Roundtable, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the Obama administration for "college for all." Job requirements in the 21st Century Global Marketplace have increased not because the skills required have changed but because college educated people are forced to take employment lower and lower in the employment hierarchy. In our 21st Century Global Economy, employers can hike the requirements as well as lower the pay and benefits.

Who knows? Today a B. A. to waitress at Applebee's. Tomorrow? Ph.D. anyone?

There's nothing especially unique about not finding employment in the field one expected after graduation. Decades ago, I found a job or Madison Avenue working for publishers of a glossy magazine, not because I had a Master's Degree in medieval literature but because I was an excellent typist. I never regarded my minimum wage job as evidence of the "failure" of my college education but rather as evidence that I'd made a choice. Who knows? Maybe it was the education--learning new things and expanding my horizons--that gave me the nerve to leave my farming community of 4000 and get on a plane for New York City, where I didn't know a soul. In any case, I took the job, not out of desperation, but because I wanted to work in publishing.

What's different about the situation these days is the corporate-politicos' heavy-handed marketing of college as job training. Nobody talks about college as a place to explore the universe, to learn things undreamt of in the corporate-politico philosophy.

And the corporate-politicos are tightening the screws or, as they like to say, raising the bar. A high school diploma used to be a job requirement, not for the skills attained in school but because it was a marker for certain desirable character traits: For starters, the prospective employee had shown the requisite discipline to stay the course for 13 years. Now that the Secretary of Education, echoing the Business Roundtable has declared the high school diploma worthless, time spent in college becomes the new employment prerequisite. As more and more jobs are shipped overseas to service corporate greed, expect more and more corporados to complain that college grads lack "the skills needed in the Global Economy."

Onward to the Ph.D.

Asked what he gained from philosophy, he answered, "To do without being commanded what others do from fear of the laws."
--Diogenes Laertius

These days our schools are populated by fearful teachers who spread a message of fear to their students.

The game here is to make workers feel insecure and inadequate--and to be desperate enough to work for lower salaries and fewer benefits. Schools cooperate by declaring that pre-K is the place to get kids ready for kindergarten, which has become the training ground for a college degree. As the Ed Trust website long declared in a banner, "College begins in Kindergarten."

No, kindergarten begins in kindergarten, and it should be a children's garden, not a conveyor belt of discrete skills sold my the publishing conglomerates and supervised by literacy and math coaches.

Our increasing inequality problems are huge, and they can't be laid at the door of our education system--except in the broad context of the fact we should be educating students for resistance and revolution, not fear and compliance.

— Susan Ohanian




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