Saturday, April 7, 2012

Yet More Evidence That It's Hard to be a "Sophisticated Consumer" If You Are a Prospective Law Student.

Earlier today Paul Campos published a post about an article that appeared on Forbes's blog titled Grad School: Still Worth the Money?  The article in question is nothing more than a misleading and blatantly false propaganda piece encouraging people to go to graduate school written by the owner of a graduate school entrance exam test prep company.

I don't have anything to add to what Professor Campos had to say other than to point out that this sort of crap makes it difficult for prospective law students to be "sophisticated consumers" as the judge who dismissed the class action lawsuit against New York Law School seems to believe.  As Professor Campos points out, Forbes is (or at least used to be) a reputable publication.  If the content in Forbes cannot be trusted, then who are prospective students supposed to turn to when they are researching the value of attending law school?  Who is more trustworthy and reputable, Forbes or anonymous loudmouth malcontent bloggers whose work is relatively obscure?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Great Disappointment: The Impoverishment of the Younger Generations

No, I'm not writing about "The Great Disappointment of 1844" when Jesus failed to appear as prophesied:

The Great Disappointment was a major event in the history of the Millerite movement, a 19th-century American Christian sect that formed out of the Second Great Awakening.  Based on his interpretations of the prophecies in the book of Daniel [...], William Miller, a Baptist preacher, proposed that Jesus Christ would return to earth during the year 1844.  [...]  Thousands of followers, some of whom had given away all of their possessions, waited expectantly.  When Jesus did not appear, October 22, 1844, became known as the Great Disappointment.  (Taken from the Wikipedia entry.)
Unfortunately, The Great Disappointment I'm writing about isn't as funny and has affected millions if not tens of millions of people.  I'm referring to the broken implied social contract we were indoctrinated with since Kindergarten (or even nursery school) that playing by the rules and investing in education and especially in higher education would almost guarantee secure long-term middle class employment.  The Great Disappointment for millions of young adults is that they have been unable to obtain the worthwhile return-on-investment from their higher educations that our society promised them.

Esquire recently published an interesting article which argues that the younger generations are on the losing end of inter-generational warfare.  It is titled, The War Against Youth by Stephan Marche with the tagline, "The recession didn't gut the prospects of American young people.  The Baby Boomers took care of that."
In 1984, American breadwinners who were sixty-five and over made ten times as much as those under thirty-five.  The year Obama took office, older Americans made almost forty-seven times as much as the younger generation.

This bleeding up of the national wealth is no accounting glitch, no anomalous negative bounce from the recent unemployment and mortgage crises, but rather the predictable outcome of thirty years of economic and social policy that has been rigged to serve the comfort and largesse of the old at the expense of the young.
I'm not sure if I agree with or follow everything Marche had to say, but I took great interest in some of what he wrote.  The article highlighted or mentioned some statistics:

  • An estimated 85% of college graduates moved back into their parents' homes in 2010 while carrying an average of $25,250 of student loan debt.

  • "1 in 4 young Americans have moved back in with their parents after living separately."
  • "1 in 3 young Americans have postponed marrying."

  • "1 in 5 young Americans have delayed having a baby."

  • Over the past 25 years, older people's wealth has increased 42% while younger people's wealth has decreased 67%.

  • Only 54% of young adults aged 18-24 are employed, which is the lowest percentage since the government began tracking that statistic.

Midway through the article, Marche discussed the exploding price of college along with the dim outlook for high school graduates: (which, of course, is one of the large driving forces behind people's desire to go to college).  (I am quoting these segments differently than the order in which they appeared in the article.)
What goes for the white-collar young person applies even more ferociously to the blue-collar world, or what's left of it.  The nature of the generational setback for unionized labor can be summed up in a single devastating phrase: New workers will earn a "globally competitive wage."  Manufacturing jobs, having been exported to the Third World, are now returning to America at Third World rates.  Newer workers at unions across the country earn ten to fifteen dollars an hour less than established workers, and the unspoken but widely reported understanding with the AFL-CIO is that the wage of these workers will not increase.  In other words, Boomer workers make almost double what their young counterparts do, and will continue to do so regardless of how long a young worker stays in the same job.
As I have discussed in numerous other posts, the dim outlook for high school graduates (in all likelihood you will end up working a poverty-wage retail services job) is part of what drives people into colleges where the prices have increased significantly:
From 1980 on, the price of attending a four-year college has risen by 128 percent.  While the price has spiked, the quality has tanked.  Students at college in 2003 did two-thirds the homework that students in 1961 did. In a survey published in 2011, 45 percent of students showed no improvement in "critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing" after two years of college. You did not read that incorrectly: That's no improvement.  None.  And how could the results be any different?  Three decades ago, 43 percent of professors were adjuncts.  Now, with colleges bloated by older, tenured professors who take up huge slices of academic budgets while teaching crumbs of courses, the vast majority of classes are taught by adjuncts.
While a decrease in the quality of pedagogy may be a factor, I have a different take on this.  Part of the decrease in the quality of college education may simply be the result of increased numbers of merely average (and in many cases below average) people going to college.  The colleges might not want to push them as hard (less homework) and, perhaps because a large percentage of the students possess merely average intelligence, fewer show improvement in their critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills.

The increase in the number of people attending college has resulted in the production of more new college graduates than the nation's economy can absorb.  Consequently, in order to further distinguish themselves in the hopes of securing middle class white collar employment, many people have felt the need to flood into graduate and professional schools (an Education Arms Race) where they are getting reamed by skyrocketing tuition:
Law-school tuition rose 317 percent between 1989 and 2009 while American laws schools wildly increased the number of lawyers they graduate.   Naturally, a glut of lawyers decreases their value. So kids pay more for a worse education that leads to lesser prospects in order for the schools to prosper temporarily.  Even for doctors and lawyers, an accrual of property or any rise in net worth happens much later in life than it did twenty years ago.  The standard debt-repayment plan for physicians is ten years, but twenty-five is a commonly accepted option. For the new professional class today, life begins at forty.  That's not just an expression.
It gets even better!  Because we have huge oversupplies of college graduates, including those with advanced and professional degrees, now you have to intern before you can secure a job in your field.
Once you're out of college, you'll have to intern.  Again, no choice.  The practice of not paying young people for their labor has become so ingrained in the everyday practice of American business that we've forgotten how bizarre and recent the development is.  In the early 1980s, 3 percent of college grads had had an internship. By 2006, 84 percent had done at least one. Multiple internships are common.  According to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, more than 75 percent of employers prefer students who have interned or had a similar working experience.
I was happy to read that passage because I knew that people in previous generations didn't have to suffer doing free internships, but I had never seen any statistics for it before.  So, when know-it-all Baby Boomers tell you to work for free, almost all of them are telling you to do something that they themselves probably would have regarded as being beneath them or as extremely distasteful forty-five years ago. Of course, businesses can require that people do free internships simply because the huge oversupply of college graduates has made securing a college-education-requiring white collar job extremely competitive.
The deal they were promised, that if you work hard and make smart choices you will have a good life, is not working out.  A Great Disappointment will no doubt follow.
I do not think that the older generations have intentionally screwed over their children; it just ended up working out that way.  I believe that what we are seeing is the "economic front" of our nation's transformation into a third world economy.  I do not think that the problem is so much that the Baby Boomers are hogging most of the good jobs as much as it is that our nation is exchanging middle class jobs for low-wage jobs and that the solid career-building jobs are no longer on the market, which will impact new entrants to the job market more than it will people with established careers.  Also,  laid off Baby Boomers have suffered difficulty finding new jobs in their fields, too.

As I see it, The Great Disappointment is that the leadership of the Baby Boomer generation and even that of preceding "Greatest Generation" inadvertently fucked up the health of our nation's economy and much of the brunt of it is disproportionately impacting the younger generations.

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