Tuesday, June 15, 2010

We Are All a Lost Generation

It’s certainly been said before: we are the lost generation.

I recently watched the Class of 2010 from our prestigious law school go off into the world unemployed and with no prospects. The grads themselves put the unemployment level at about two-thirds of the class, an unbelievably horrible statistic for a school that was reporting graduate employment in the high 90s when these students matriculated. A quick glance at the results of career services’ employment survey shows a 35% response rate. It’s amazing how closely that mirrors what the students themselves claim as far as their collective employment status. I’ve been pondering what the implications of this are for these former classmates and peers. This kind of catastrophe has never happened to many of us. Certainly, many people have overcome great obstacles, tragedies, and disasters in life. We all have our personal difficulties to surmount. However, I doubt many people have seen their future really evaporate.

What happens when you hit full stop and realize that there really is no job for you? You realize that all you have worked for over years, maybe close to a decade, is for naught. It’s one thing to be waylaid by life’s curves and detours. It’s quite another to come to the end of the journey, the culmination of your young adult life thus far, and find that the road is closed. We go to school for the first quarter of our lives so we can get a job, find a profession, in which to spend the rest of it. What happens when this long-established road to employment, to professional life, to success, becomes impassible? Who do you turn to for guidance when your parents and mentors lived through the biggest economic boom times in living memory, when jobs were plentiful and the sky, or at least the suburbs, was the limit? How do you relate to people whose only experience has taught them that the only people who can’t get a decent job are lazy, inefficient, or defective?

In days of yore, disenchanted 20-somethings could decamp to the City of Light to ponder their place in the world and get slammed with Ernest Hemingway. Sadly, this is no longer an option for most. How is an intrepid graduate going to scrounge up the dough to hit Europe, or even some more affordable third-world backwater, with 150,000 dollars in debt hanging over their head?

The tens of thousands of scammed graduates, this lost generation, will not be knocking around Europe, writing the Great American Novel, and ruminating on some grand poetry in a Parisian salon. They will be working the cash register at Walgreen’s, mowing lawns for the parks department, and hunching over a computer screen in a dank basement reviewing documents for $15/hour--if they’re lucky. At night, they will slink home and fire up the stove for a meal of delicious Ramen noodles. Occasionally, their eyes will wander to the forgotten corner of their efficiency apartment where their undergrad, masters, law, or doctorate degree sits in a dusty frame. Having thus triggered a night of uncontrollable sobbing and/or binge drinking, this overeducated, overqualified debt peon will catch a few winks of sleep before having to get up and grind it out again for $8 an hour.

Do you remember what it was like to dream big? High school graduation is, for me, only a few short years in the rear view mirror. Be it five, ten, or twenty, everyone remembers. Some of us dreamt of being big shots. Many others were just excited to get out into the world, go to college, and get a decent middle class job and live like their parents. I sure as hell didn’t expect to see scores of people go off to four-year private universities, come home, and only be able to get a job cutting grass and de-icing asphalt for the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Those of us who postponed this harsh reality and took refuge in law or grad school are only prolonging the pain. Our financial reality will be even bleaker. Many of us put off imagining what living under six figures of non-dischargeable debt while earning peanuts must be like. It’s easy to forget that the dream we’re all working for—a normal, stable job, decent salary, and ability to pay back our debts and keep a roof over our heads—has vanished for millions of young people. Reading “DEFERRED-CURRENTLY ENROLLED” on your loan statement every month is akin to taking a nice big dose of opiates. The pain is dulled, reality slips away. The realization that you have been sold down the river by higher education and your lenders is postponed.

The Boomers will cry foul. It’s your fault, we’re told. No one told you to take out 75,000 dollars in loans to study political science. You should have known a master’s degree is useless. You’re a moron for not realizing that there are not enough jobs to go around. You ought to have realized the legal economy was going to implode and there never were enough jobs for all of you. You think you have it tough, well we lived during the 70s oil crisis!

You went to college and law school in a time where a semester’s tuition put you back mere hundreds of dollars. You may have started out with nothing, but you didn’t start out 50, 100, 150 thousand dollars in the hole. And although you started out small, there were jobs for you. You were able to climb the ladder. Dramatically fewer people held college degrees when you were working your first jobs and building your careers. You had it easy, by every measure, but you didn’t bother to make things easy for us.

We did not subsidize any and all higher education. We did not give schools a free pass to raise tuition every year, for decades, in the knowledge that the money would always come in because the feds were putting up the cash. We didn’t wreck the global economy. We didn’t destroy the American manufacturing sector and outsource millions of service jobs. We didn’t approve of legal work being outsourced to non-lawyers for pennies on the dollar in India. We didn’t arrange things so that the only job you can get with a B.A. is being a barista.

But there is one thing we did do, and it’s cursed us ever since. We listened to you Boomers. We believed our teachers and parents who drilled into us the notion that higher education is the key to advancement. We believed the President when he told us that everyone should go to college. We believed you when you told us paying $40,000 a year for private college was an investment in our futures. We believed you when you said it was absolutely necessary to raise our public university tuition 15% year after year. We believed the bogus employment and salary statistics cooked up by unctuous law school deans who were eager to see Sallie Mae and federal loan dollars keep pouring in. We believed because we wanted to, but isn’t that what we are supposed to do? People are supposed to trust in their institutions: higher education, the government, the president. Their parents. Young people are supposed to be able to have faith in their elders. So yes, we believed in you, and now we’re doomed. While we figure out how to handle this student debt, forgive us if we have a hard time paying for your trillions in unfunded medical, retirement, and social security liabilities. You had the wheel; we believed you could bring us in safely. Well, now we can all go down together.

A big thanks from the Lost Generation.

15 comments:

  1. Yup, you guys pretty much got fucked.

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  2. Don't forget all the boomer cougars. The boomers are screwing you guys in so many ways it's unbelievable. Damn hippies (boomers) were never good for much anyway.

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  3. Well written post. Would read again.

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  4. Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see it squandered. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need.

    We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives.

    We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.

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  5. This post is a masterpiece.

    The generations born between 1930 and 1965 (give or take a decade) screwed us all over because they didn't want to suffer while they spent their brief time on this earth. Actually, it could be generations even older when you think about it. Nevertheless, we're gonna have to do the suffering in order to fix this desolation.

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  6. Great post.

    -Abe Lincoln

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  7. We're all in the same boat regardless of degree or chosen profession.

    See here for the same sentiment that made the rounds on the non-scam busting blogs some time ago:

    http://www.ginandtacos.com/2010/04/06/an-open-letter-from-the-boomers-to-their-children/

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  8. My sentiments exactly, SH!

    Being a poor kid, I really bought into the education scam. To some extent, being able to pull myself out of a childhood upbringing on welfare, I felt justified in accruing large amounts of debt because I had been told that education is the answer to pretty much everything.

    Naturally, being American, I assumed that more is better, and just kept going to school, getting an MA and a JD, because having these degrees was supposed to elevate me into the rarefied league of the uber-employable.

    Of course, now when I interview for those law jobs, I get all kinds of crap for having the audacity to have earned non-law degrees--as well as getting crap for being older than the kids who end up doing the interviews.

    Education in and of itself is not a bad thing, and god knows Americans are sorely lacking in the ability to engage in intelligent discourse. But education should not be a commodity, it should not be sold on the so-called "free" market, because that just encourages the parasitic elements to descend upon the unwitting students and milk them dry.

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  9. I knew all along that education never made anybody smarter and debt was a bad thing to go into. I got through college without getting into any debt.

    But then I screwed up big time. I thought I had a lack of ambition. I thought I had to challenge myself. So I fell for the trap and went to law school. I was an idealist, I thought I could work my way up and that I could also serve the public and make the world a better place.

    Too bad the government nor the public interest places won't even take a second look at me. Apparently that "low pay" doesn't actually in fact drive people away. Those fields are absolutely saturated and positions are extremely difficult to obtain.

    I thought I'd work my way up from the bottom. I was allegedly a smart kid, not I feel like I'm a stupid old man. I can't even get in on the bottom rung of the ladder, so I have no way of advancing up it.

    If I could do it all over again, right out of college, I believe I would have joined the military. That would have given me experience and a place to live, and food on the table. Unfortunately I lacked the maturity to realize how important it was to consider money above everything else. I listened to "Freedom" and "work-life balance" and "doing what you love" as if we all had choices. If I had gone to the military, with the amount of bullshit I had soaked up from the media, academia and the stupid American public, I probably would have gotten myself dishonorably discharged with a failure to respect authority. But maybe not, maybe I would instead have matured quickly.

    You have three choices really in this country. You can either have the connections in place to advance, you can gain credentials and then get lucky on your own (this is extremely unlikely for most people) or you can join the military. Those are really your three best bets. If you are not a socially outgoing person that will ask people for help and people want to help, you better have the family connections in place or you are fighting an extremely uphill battle.

    I know better now than to listen to what the general public thinks or to argue with people. America has fucked us completely over, and no matter what the older generations want to think, it's not our fault nor is it our duty to fix it. They better fix it themselves, because otherwise, we sure as fuck are not going to fund their medicaire and medicaid and social security and all of that other stuff. We will instead live off of the benefits that we were all too proud to take ourselves, right until the government itself collapses, which it seems to be doing now.

    You politicians and older people either better fucking fix the problems now, or you can start paying for it yourselves. We're younger and healthier than you can hope to be. We are not the ones that won't be able to survive without the benefits and aid. You are.

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  10. Very well said! You’ve made our argument, but if we expect to make any progress, we have to come up with solutions.

    For those of us who wanted to “change the world,” here's our chance. What do we want?

    Here are some suggestions: (1) expand the message to the broader education scam (what is any degree worth these days?) (2) make student loan repayments contingent on income with the schools (not the taxpayers) taking the loss (this will create an incentive for schools to find reasonable employment for their graduates and/or limit enrollment in "worthless" programs), (3) reverse the offshoring trend through the use of tariffs that punish nations that allow companies to exploit workers or the environment, (4) start suing and revoking licenses/aid for schools that mislead or can't place graduates in suitable employment, (5) allow student loans to be discharged in bankruptcy after a specified time (e.g. 5 years after graduation) or number of unsuccessful legitimate attempts to gain suitable employment (why should you have to pay for something that you can't use and is thus defective?), (6) pass legislation prohibiting employment discrimination based on being educated or “overqualified,” and (7) if all else fails, let’s find a nation to flee to that actually values us.

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  11. There may be a couple of silver linings to "The Great Recession." First, the next profession to face job insecurity will be POLITICIANS. Second, if this recession leads to a Holocaust like the Great Depression did, then at least the "indentured student loan class" won't be the victims because there are to many powers-that-be who have a financial interest in our survival!

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  12. Wow. I'll have to be the lone dissenting voice here, apparently. I see in these posts an understandable level of frustration, depression, and angst. But I also see a mortifying lack of personal responsibility. Not one person in this nation has ever been forced by law to attend school and get a particular degree, much less to accrue six-plus figures of debt acquiring multiple degrees with some grandiose idea that you are entitled to a high paying job as a result. In this country you are entitled to the opportunity to get up earlier, work harder and smarter, and exploit your own talents and resources to make your way.

    Please don't misunderstand me. I have a BS in Wildlife Science, which is largely useless in the real world, as I can make more working at a pizza joint than in the wildlife biology field. When I graduated, I looked at getting my Masters, but when I did the evaluation, spending $25-30k to acquire it over 3yrs, to come out making $23k annually, made no sense whatsoever. So I went to work. I've worked some pretty crappy jobs in my time, too, and clocked more 90+ hour work weeks for well under $40k annual income than I care to remember. I managed to build a career, make a good living, and create a life I like. Then, in 2008, the company I worked for went under unexpectedly, and I was unemployed. I spent the next 18mo working "tourniquet jobs" to keep from losing my house, and to keep my kids fed. I sold my boat, bought a less expensive truck to drive, and pinched pennies everywhere I could. I did extra work when I could find it. My wife went back to work full time and my three kids did without a lot of the fun things they were used to. We didn't take a vacation since then. We almost lost our home and everything else, anyway. And yet, here I am, rebuilding my life at 40yrs old, with almost no retirement left, little in savings, and stripped of the life we'd worked so hard to build. So I fully understand the "getting screwed" part of the discussion.

    What I don't see here is the personal will to get back up and keep moving. I agree that the government entitlement system is a failure, and people ought to get it out of their heads that they deserve anything based on the government. But it's up to us to change that. Vote for people who will let you keep what you earn, and won't try to redistribute your hard earned dollars to buy votes from whatever demographic group they feel they need in the next election.

    Just don't sit around and whine because America isn't a land of guarantees. It's always been the land of opportunity, where we believe in "...certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." There is no guarantee. There's not anything about "fairness" in that. There's a chance for you to live where you choose, do what you choose, and be who you choose. Of course, understood in that is the right to enjoy the consequences, good or bad, of your own choices.

    Is it tough right now? Yes. Does that mean you lay down and gripe about the situation and blame others for your debt and difficulties? No. Find your talents, find your drive, and pick up your machete' and cut your own path through the jungle. It's the only way.

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  13. What a bunch of Horatio Alger fluff. No one here is lazy. On the contrary, we were motivated to excel academically and had ambition to go to law school. If you have a bone to pick with "lazy 20somethings," go bitch at the 27 year old who works at Pizza Hut and still leeches off his mom. I don't think you have a leg to stand on in criticizing smart, ambitious people. All your flag-waving rhetoric about America being the land of opportunity, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, etc...that seems to me like precisely what we did. Law students could have got a job at the library or at Walgreen's, but instead they believed in their abilities and wanted to make something better of themselves. That sounds a hell of a lot like gritting your teeth and hacking it through the jungle, if you ask me.

    Our beef isn't with your concept of "America," it's with the law school industrial complex. Law school and higher ed have been misrepresented as a way to better yourself. We were enticed with blatantly fraudulent statistics and testimonials about how much this would help improve our lives. Our elders, parents, mentors, teachers, and the schools themselves, all encouraged us and gave us the green light to go to school. Isn't rolling the dice, taking a risk, and striving to "better yourself," via achievement and academic excellence all part of this great American striving you advocate?

    I'm sorry to hear about your financial struggles, Anon. It appears that you've shown remarkable resilience in the face of all of it, and that's admirable. We're not here to bitch and moan, we're here to sound the alarm. It used to be in this country that we didn't have to approach everything as a scam-in-waiting. You could trust colleges and higher education. The law itself is supposedly the arbiter of justice and fair dealing, so its gateway institutions ought to be paragons of virtue rather than dens of thieves.

    It's not okay, and it's surely not "American" for an educational industry to advertise itself as a "noble profession" built on honesty and justice, when it is the opposite. It's not okay for them to pump out misleading lies and statistics upon which thousands of students rely in making irreversible decisions about their future. It's not okay to take thousands of intelligent, ambitious, and capable students and saddle them with 100k in debt and leave them with no prospects. This isn't a situation where you can just say, "Ouch, tough luck. Caveat emptor, bro," to the yearly crop of 45,000 JDs. A lot of people want the public to think that these problems are entirely their own, that they weren't scammed and led astray. To approach our blogs, and life in general, like that is incredibly wrongheaded.

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  14. The scamblogs are trying to communicate the idea to the 0Ls that there has been a dramatic shift in the cost/benefit analysis of law school attendance, and that the law schools are NOT being truthful about the new reality, and parents, high school counselors, etc., are not AWARE of the new reality.

    The average college-educated 50-ish parent of a college student, just isn't CONSCIOUS of the fact that legal work can be outsourced to India or LegalZoom in a way that medical and dental work, for example, cannot be. With the lower rungs of the profession chopped off, and with new law schools expanding the pool of lawyers, the job prospects for newly-admitted lawyers is terrible, yet each year the average amount of debt per graduate has grown. The recession has made things much worse, but even when the economy picks up, few law firms are going to be willing to hire an attorney who graduated from a third-tier school five years ago.

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  15. Anon again. I'll respond to your thoughts in that you clearly missed the point of my post. First off, I said nothing about "lazy 20somethings" in my post. Second, I didn't say there wasn't an issue with the collegiate system. I stand by my assessment that going into six figure debt to get ANY educational degree is a major undertaking, and as such, should be preceded by significant independent verification of the facts. You'd verify before investing $100k in anything - be it stocks, a house, artwork, or whatever else - so why not prior to shelling it out for school? If your sources all said the same thing, and all were lying to you, or all were ignorant, I am not sure how good your research and verification efforts were. Notice I mentioned performing exactly the kind of analysis regarding graduate school in my original post.

    The other piece of the puzzle, my understanding of the frustration and angst not withstanding, is that you chose to get a JD, knowing full well that there are no guarantees of any kind. There are thousands of lawyers who graduated within the last decade that are working and doing well. I know and use several. Of these, only one comes from a family that bankrolled her success in terms of paying for education and having "connections" to grease the skids, so to speak. The others all started out at the bottom of the pile. Two of them worked a few years for little pay and then went out and started their own firms. Both of them are currently expanding at this point, adding additional attorneys to their roster and growing their businesses.

    I can tell you from personal experience that being angry and frustrated comes out - at job interviews, in social situations - even if you don't want it to. It hampers the process. I'm just saying that the field has never been "fair" and won't be. It can't be. But, it's those who keep getting up after being knocked down that make it. I'm living proof. And even now, I don't have everything I want, and I'm tail-over-teakettle in debt with little saved. The difference is that I know, no matter what, I'm going to end up dying on my feet, not living on my knees (with respects to Emiliano Zapata for the paraphrasing).

    I mean no disrespect to you, sir. Good luck!

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