We're smart, well-read, irreverent, funny, hard workers, and highly educated.
And we are unemployed.
Ever since the economic bubble bursted in 2008, this country has experienced a level of unemployment previously unknown. Yes, I know that there have been periods in which more people have been unemployed — the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Reagan Era of the 1980s come to mind — but I would venture to say that there has never been a time period when so many highly intelligent, well-educated people have struggled to find gainful employment.
There was a time when having an education was key to a better life. But that is no more.
Now the key to having a better life, or at least to being gainfully employed, is ... well, I'm not sure what the key is. Somebody please tell me if you know.
Myself and others did everything right. We graduated from high school. We went onto college or university. We worked hard and earned a degree, and some of us even went back and earned a master's degree. For all intents and purposes, we should be at least somewhere near the middle of the economic strata.
This from the National Center for Education Statistics: "For young adults ages 25-34 who worked full time throughout a full year, higher educational attainment was associated with higher median earnings."
This from the United States Census Bureau: "Workers 18 and over sporting bachelors degrees earn an average of $51,206, while those with a high school diploma earn $27,915. But wait, there's more. Workers with an advanced degree make an average of $74,602, and those without a high school diploma average $18,734."
Really? Really!?! Let's see. In 1991, I graduated with a bachelor's degree in Psychology. I was hired as a mental health therapist/case manager — a position that required at the minimum a bachelor's degree — at a yearly salary of $25,500.
Okay, so that was more than 20 years ago. Let's move forward. I went back to school to pursue my dream of being a writer, and graduated with my second bachelor's degree, this one in English/Imaginative Writing, in 1998. I was hired as an intern reporter/staff writer in 1999 — also a position that required at least a bachelor's degree — at $11 an hour, or $19,800 yearly.
Clearly I was not playing the game right, as I was going down the economic ladder with each subsequent degree.
I so loved being a journalist — the writing, meeting people, feeling that I was doing something that really mattered — that I ignored the fact that people out of high school were making more than me.
Then I got sick, as long-term readers of this blog know, with anorexia. I had to take a three-month sick leave due to the affects of starving myself, and I wondered if I would ever work again. I ate and ate and ate some more, and was able to return to work, only to be faced with a buyout offer upon my return.
I looked at this as an opportunity, a chance to pursue my dream of earning my master's degree and furthering my career. I took the buyout and returned to school, and was awarded my master's in English Composition and Communication.
This was in August 2012. And my income? $0
Okay, now I have to admit that I haven't spent all of my time since graduating searching for full-time work. I took the entire summer off last year and did some other things this past fall. At the end of February, I relocated in hopes of finding more opportunities.
Job hunting has turned out to be an eye-opening, soul-crushing experience. It is a game with no clear winners, because when I get a job, that means one, two, three, or more people lose out. It is a game that causes you to suppress the best parts of yourself, while bringing to light some of your worst traits. Traits such as competitiveness and jealousy and plain old back-stabbing.
Because everyone else is playing the game, and by God, you better figure out how to play it or be crushed and thrown to the side.
It seems like something mean-spirited and ugly has been set loose, like the life of each one of us has been diminished, and that we are only here to interface and produce and perform.
And I'm afraid for this society, at what it means for all of us.