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Jewish World Review
Jan 5, 2012/ 10 Teves, 5772
Majoring in unemployment
Old age has its compensations, and one of them is sneering at the young and their problems. But it's hard not to feel heartbroken for youngsters who go in debt to get a college education in a field they love, then graduate to find themselves really deep in debt and with no job to repay it.
There is also a guilty sense of relief of having gone through none of that. I went to college at a time when the tuition was considerably less than the current benchmark used by colleges to set their tuition -- the cost of buying and then totaling an uninsured BMW every year for four years.
The job market in those days was complicated by universal military service, an inconvenient but innocuous two-year interruption in one's career plans in those innocent pre-Vietnam days. I took the physical and the intelligence test and was assigned the pulse-quickening military occupation specialty of clerk and that I would be called if my services were required. Between grad school and several years in the Peace Corps, they never were.
I was an English major, a fact of which I was reminded when I recently found my heavily worn college copy of James Joyce's "Ulysses," complete with my extensive annotations. I have never read it since and don't plan to now. Being an English major means there's a lot of stuff you don't have to read again.
My career plans were to go to work for a newspaper, a field now almost impossible to enter. I look at the bright, tech-savvy, highly motivated kids trying to get into the business and realize that I would never have made it against that kind of competition.
In those days, if you fell in with a convivial crowd at a saloon favored by newspaper types, you were likely to wake up writing obituaries during the day and covering the cops at night. The management knew that many former English majors were only doing this to cover expenses while writing the Great American Novel and thus were unlikely to ask for much money until it was too late, and the only alternative was to stay or go into public relations.
The deciding factor in my callow youth was that newspapers were just a lot more fun.
What brought this to mind was a study by Georgetown University on the unemployment rates by major among recent college grads. Tuition and fees at Georgetown, by the way, are $41,393 annually, plus another $13,543 for room and board and $1,270 for books and supplies.
Worst off are those with undergraduate degrees in architecture -- a jobless rate of 13.9 percent. The construction industry is in the doldrums -- you don't need architects if you're not building anything. And why build a new home when the bank will practically give you a foreclosed one?
Not far behind are the arts, but I've never met fine-arts majors who weren't resigned to a long period of impoverishment and frustration if they stayed with their chosen field. For them a jobless rate of 12 percent is practically full employment.
Surprisingly, the jobless rates for recent graduates in computers, math, engineering and business were higher than those for journalism grads.
But there's a catch, notes The Washington Post: "over a lifetime the earnings of workers who have majored in engineering, computer science or business were as much as 50 percent higher than those who majored in the humanities, the arts, education and psychology."
Surprisingly -- or maybe not -- one of the lowest unemployment rates for recent grads, 5.4 percent, was in education. Perhaps that's because states, following the leads of Wisconsin and Ohio, have been beating up on teachers so badly there are a lot of vacancies in the field.
Still, the college grads are so much better off than those recent grads with only a high-school diploma, 22.9 percent, or those who dropped out, 31.5 percent. Maybe they haven't fully grasped the metaphor of annually wrecking a $41,393 BMW as a means of career advancement.
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