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Feminspire | April 24, 2014

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If We’re Doing All The “Right” Things, Why Are We Still Unemployed?

If We’re Doing All The “Right” Things, Why Are We Still Unemployed?

| On 13, Nov 2013

I am not an economist. But it doesn’t take an economist to realize that something is wrong with the economy. It doesn’t take an economist to realize that high unemployment is becoming a new standard, five years after the great crash of 2008. It doesn’t take an economist to realize that underemployment is becoming the new unemployment. And it doesn’t take an economist to realize that all of this is becoming the new normal.

Normal. 7.3% unemployment is normal. 14.3% underemployed and unemployed is normal. Yes. It is. At least for my generation.

That is depressing.

I realize I’m speaking from a position of privilege, someone who got a college degree, and didn’t have to dive deep into debt to do it. Someone who is currently getting their master’s degree thanks to fellowships and TA-ships. I grew up middle class. I’m also white and cis-gender.

I’m also aware of the fact that when I graduate in a year, with a master’s degree and a teaching license, I will be fighting tooth-and-nail for a job. I fully expect to send out upwards of 50 applications if I want to get one interview. And I’m scared shitless at the prospect that a year after I graduate with those degrees, I might still be unemployed.

Circumstance forces me to admit that I am one of the lucky ones.

And yet, the word “lucky” has a bitter taste of irony. Because in the same city where students are being squeezed into classrooms that don’t serve them, there have been 51 schools closed and 2,100 teachers laid off this year alone.

People tell me that I was silly to get a major in the humanities. Which is why I’m getting a teaching license. They tell me that I should have had a better plan. Except that this was my better plan – my original dream was to be a living history interpreter, which pays hourly. (Previous dreams included figure skater, singer, and writer, respectively. Society talked me out of them all.) They tell me that I should have had fail-safe career. Isn’t public education – an industry that our society is built on, and will always need – fail-safe?

I’m tired of being told that I should have been a STEM major. We can’t all be. We shouldn’t all be. This country, counter to current myth, is not going to shrivel up and die for lack of science and math folks. And what’s more, a STEM major doesn’t guarantee a job like the conventional wisdom says it does. 9% of computer science recent grads are unemployed and only 6% of theater majors are searching for jobs.

I’m tired of some careers being ranked as “smart” and “practical” and others being ranked as “stupid decisions.” I’m tired of different types of people being cast as “marketable” and others as “worthless.” I’m tired of various work being deemed to have more value than other work. I’m tired of being told by the older generations that we’re just not working hard enough, and we expect to have it all. I never thought I would have it all. But I did think that I would have half a shot at getting a full-time job when I graduated with a B.A.

It’s all backwards. It’s all wrong. And yet, wrong and backwards are the new norm.

Written by Laura Koroski
You can find more of her writings at her nerdy feminist blog, Challenge by Geek.

  • K.

    9% of computer science recent grads are unemployed and only 6% of theater majors are searching for jobs.

    To be fair computer science is not computer systems engineering or IT. Both of those fields are very easily employable. Computer science is specialising in obscure programming languages that are rarely used outside of academia. Employment data is usually measured in how many people are unemployed who are looking for a job in their chosen field. How many theater majors are looking for theater jobs and how many are going back to do a business masters etc etc?
    And you’re right, you’re not an economist. This unemployment trend is short term and, historically, nothing to be concerned over.

    • Inlustris

      It’s concerning when I can barely pay my bills and there are limited–if no–jobs prospects available.

      But what is short term? 6 years? 10 years? That is a long time to be struggling and suffering.

      • K.

        Well in that case I suppose it’s just a function of supply and demand. You are free to study whatever you want but if there is no demand for x number of humanities graduates, then there isn’t going to be the supply of jobs for those people. This is where masters degrees in business etc come in handy. There cannot be the expectation that a philosophy or gender studies or theater etc etc job is going to land in your lap just because you were good at studying it. They are wonderful degrees – creative and innovative and they produce graduates who have a real entrepreneurial drive. Jobs have always been a bit slim on the ground for such industries. And with the decline of journalism it’s going to get worse. At the end of the day I’m not convinced it is the bad economy (I’m not in America though so it’s difficult to get a feel) but the small existing industry.

  • http://asimplesyrup.blogspot.com/ Amanda Duncil

    “I’m tired of being told that I should have been a STEM major.”

    THANK YOU!! I am tired of hearing “You majored in WHAT?! What are you doing with that, hmmm?”

  • Inlustris

    I graduated with a degree in Philosophy. I fought tooth and nail to be able to do so. My parents, my friends, my coworkers (I had to work to be able to afford college) all thought it was a mistake.

    I really want to be a writer and a philosopher. But I’m told that those things aren’t possible for me. Its frustrating and its wrong. I love philosophy. Majoring in it doesn’t mean I have made a huge mistake with my life.

    I am however extremely lucky, I recently got a job. A “real” job that, if I wanted, I could start a career with. But it was hard and it was a lengthy process. I know my friends who have graduated have not been anywhere near as lucky as I.

    But I completely agree with this article. There is nothing wrong with philosophy, or history, or humanities. Philosophy was the first science, it is the thing that all the sciences stem from. People need to stop shitting on my degree just because its not one of the elite STEM. I like Math just fine. But I LOVE philosophy. That’s it. The end. I’m going to do what I love, because considering the post grad prospects, I might as well spend four years doing something that I love, if I am going to have to go into an unemployed world and be stuck regardless of the degree I had.

  • bmorejoe

    It’s not like there isn’t important needed useful work pretty much everywhere one turns. From rehabbing homes to child care to teaching to building infrastructure – there is lots of work to be done – but this work does not directly profit the <.1 who control the bulk of the wealth and power. So vendors of luxury cars and caviar do fine while those people the rich have no use for are disposable and disposed. And unless regular folk take a firm and persistent stand for themselves this will not get better.

  • Aquinas Dad

    “I’m tired of some careers being ranked as “smart” and “practical” and others being ranked as “stupid decisions.” ”
    “I’m tired of various work being deemed to have more value than other work”

    Being tired of it doesn’t make it untrue. I am glad that you want to study what you studied, but education is meant to be for the sake of education, not a career. Education that is focused on a career is called ‘vocational training’.
    Education does not make you elite, it makes you educated.
    As for ‘older generations’ let me tell you something that shouldn’t be a secret – 2008 wasn’t the first market downturn. The unemployment rate when I left high school was THE SAME as it was in 2010, but interest rates were higher so it was much harder to get loans. The Older Generations you are blowing off have already been through what you are going through – maybe you should listen.