Our parents told us a number of things. Stay in school. Study hard. Stay off drugs. Keep your grades up. Get into the best college there is. Be the best at everything you do. Learn. Research. Excel. For me, the all-nighters doing homework started in seventh grade. School followed by extra-curriculars would start a bit before 8:00 in the morning and, for some parts of the year, could run until 9:00 or 10:00 at night. Then I started studying. Through college, commitments might go until well after midnight. Do all of this now, we were told, and when you finally graduate there will be a job for you. It may not be easy. Nobody is handing anything to you on a silver platter and you might get some dirt under your fingernails. But we had an understanding. There is, we are told, a rational system, and if we are smart enough and work hard enough, things will turn out okay. Will you achieve all of your dreams? Realistically, maybe not—but you should at least be comfortable. So what happens after graduation?
Congratulations, graduate! Go out and take on the world. What? No job? Surely you applied? You interviewed? Maybe you’re being unrealistic. Have you considered temp agencies? Retail? They’re flooded as well? Have you called? Dropped in in person? Pounded the proverbial pavement? Have you tried working your network? Is that really a stack of a hundred rejection letters? You must be doing something wrong.
For those who just graduated, there was no job. That’s not technically true. There was a job—but somebody older has it and isn’t letting go. It turns out the whole system is rigged. Education and intelligence and everything we were told was important turn out to be worth nothing next to seniority and experience.
Maybe the system was relatively fair twenty or thirty years ago—but it certainly isn’t now. Maybe there was a time, relatively recently, when young job seekers could weigh different offers or meaningfully negotiate salaries. When things got tough, that was the first thing to go. As the economy contracts there is a larger and larger focus on protecting people who already have jobs—or those who have recently lost them. Extending unemployment benefits won’t help recent graduates. In today’s economy, seniority is more important than merit. And through all of this, the wealth gap keeps expanding.
Sure, the economy is tough. Nobody meant for this to happen. People screwed up. Accidents happen. Normally, if you bungle something up and can’t fulfill your end of a bargain, you would and try to make it right. You broke it? Fix it. Or at least look embarrassed. That hasn’t happened. I turns out, we’re just whiners. We did everything that was asked of us … and when the older generations don’t deliver their half of the bargain, it’s somehow our fault.
If you would like to read a well-researched, well-written blog on progressive politics, Squashed is pretty awesome. But sometimes he turns out non-political gems like these, too, and they are also well worth reading. Highly recommended blog.