I recently ran into a college friend at work. We’d not seen each other in a while and didn’t really get to talk, but mentioned she was mostly just floating around and that since college life well… “it’s not what we expected, is it?”
If you had asked me twenty years ago where I thought I would be at this age, I’d tell you that I’d have a good job, a family, maybe a couple kids, standard middle class life. If you’d asked me ten years ago, I’d have said either much the same, or prison depending on if I’d snapped and killed a lot of people.
There’s a pretty good reason for this. Ask anyone my age and you’d probably find much the same story. We were all going to college, we were all going to get jobs that would earn us a couple million more in our lives than if we never went to college. College wasn’t an option, it was mandatory to have a good life, and if you did go you were pretty much guarantied a good life financially. This wasn’t just a promise made by our parents, this was a product sold to us by universities for thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Give us your wealth, your minds, your futures, and we shall return them ten fold or more!” They cried to us in scholarly robes and with alphabets to their names. These were the learned, they held the keys to all the doors (or so we were made to believe) and they would open those doors to us, the young, the future, the promised who would make the world even better than they had!
Well, not exactly. Oh we all went, many of us made it through, some didn’t. Most of us came out with crippling debts to our names, though a few broke even. But that was okay, because there were jobs, futures, bought and paid for with hard earned dollars or dollars borrowed against our names, with blood and sweat and tears. We made it through, we’d passed, we’d earned our future…
And it wasn’t there.
Oh, there are many reasons. The economy went bad. Education doesn’t mean what it used to. Many excuses even. “You’re just lazy.” Some look at us and say “You just need to try harder, stop being lazy and expecting things to be handed to you. Pay your dues and you’ll succeed.”
But we did pay our dues. Sure, there dues to pay on the job to succeed there, but we had paid the dues to get to the jobs. I got a BA in History, I should be able to get a job related to that field with that alone. But I have looked. Museums are not taking applications, and as for teaching when I have looked into that, nearly every source has said “Sorry, need more schooling.”
And before people say “fair enough,” remember that Bill Nye only has a BA in science, or did when he got his start. Once, a BA meant something impressive and you could do any number of high paying, highly respectable jobs. That’s why it cost so much to get. But today, even people with Master’s cannot find jobs.
The Government will say we’ve recovered the jobs we lost when this depression started and maybe that’s true. But we’ve added millions to the work force, millions of college educated individuals with massive debts and no jobs. What we can find demands experience levels we don’t have and can’t get, all while competing with senior workers with years of on the job experience willing to work for the same wages we would start at. Some jobs have internships to get the experience, but those typically are free or pay less than minimum wage.
Most jobs want 3-5 years experience these days from what I’ve seen. 3-5 years of unpaid labor, at or nearly at full time work levels and hours. Meaning that if you started when you got out at 24, you wouldn’t be able to earn your wages till 27-29. 3-5 years of interest payments, 3-5 years of working 2-3 jobs in a desperate attempt to make ends meet all for the ability to apply for a job, not necessarily get one. Because in those years, people already in the industry are able to spend more hours on that job getting paid, so they could work an 80 hour see while you could barely do 40, placing themselves leagues ahead of you in the game of earning that job.
Some of my fellows thing more school is the answer. Frankly, I don’t believe it. It would just be more debt, more time out of work, all for the same position. Oh sure, you might need a few years less experience with a masters, but time wise you haven’t really sped up your time table and you’ve added more debt.
So no, this is not the world we expected. We expected to have jobs, families, homes of our own. Instead we barely have jobs, the same jobs we did when or before we started college. We have families…but they’re our parents, not always significant others. And as for homes…well, some of us manage to live on our own, but there are so many of us that have moved back home…
We’re desperate. We have no hope, no future. We turn to anything to block the pain or to give us a chance at making a living, even a poor one, on our own. Some will succeed. Most will fail. But our parents who fund us will not live forever, and by the time we fill the spaces, our knowledge and skills will have faded.
We bought our parent’s promises and our university’s products…but we didn’t get what we paid for, we just got told “oi, you gotta pay more, for the rest of your life.”