Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The New Normal? We Can Do Better.

I have four reactions to this story from CNN.

First, I couldn't help but notice that none of the people who made their story were Science, or Math majors.  The main girl they talked about got a college education in at a four year university for photography.  Seriously?  You can take photography courses from your local community college for something like $1,000.00 for the full course.  Did you really need four years of student loans for that?  My cousin-in-law makes a not insignificant amount of money as a semi-professional photographer, and he's never once (as far as I know) taken a class on photography.  We're not talking the old film cameras where you have to develop your pictures in a darkroom anymore.  If you can swing a decent camera and a copy of Photoshop, you can be a professional photographer.  Don't get me started on the "Political Science" major.

Second, I felt a swell of pride at all of these people.  None of them had given up, all of them realized that the correct answer to advance themselves was to work hard and keep looking for work.  Some of them had taken multiple jobs.  Others had taken unorthodox jobs to make ends meet.  In no case did they say that anyone owed them anything.

Third, I was saddened that the premise seemed to accept that this "New Normal" was okay.  The idea seemed to be that people should just accept that this is the best our economy can do.  I completely reject that notion.  If our economy were unleashed, we would see job creation like our parents remember from Reagan.  The overly burdensome regulatory environment, plus energy prices which have skyrocketed, just as Obama promised, plus an over-reaching and unconstitutional (notwithstanding Chief Justice Roberts rhetorical gymnastics) health care law have made for a lingering recession and job growth well below that of George Bush's so-called "jobless recovery."

Finally, I was frustrated that the answer, to which the author of the piece came so close, was ignored.  Really, "answers."  This goes back to points one and two, in a way.  Again I'll note that none of those interviewed had pursued STEM degrees.  Only the girl who had gotten her Poli-Sci degree had any answer for "what next" that actually required a degree.  Everyone else was doing things, or wanted to do things, that require no degree at all.  In their cases, they would have been better served by community college.  The other part is the quiet denigration of one of the subjects' mothers.  The quiet assumption that skilled labor, she held a factory job, was somehow "low," or ignoble.

Forget your poet-philosophers.  Forget your lawyers.  Indeed, forget your electrical engineers and mathematicians.  Every society will always need good carpenters, masons, and glaziers.  The skilled trades have been slandered by implication for as long as I can remember, yet a good plumber can make a solid middle-class salary, as can a good electrician, a good brick-layer, or almost any other skilled trade.  These jobs often require no schooling, but they do require a brain between your ears and a willingness to get dirty.

We used to believe in "an honest day's work for an honest day's wage."  Now we seem to believe in "an honest day's wage but only if I get to work at a desk in the air conditioning."

We can do better.  We owe it to our children to do so.

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