Talk To Me Like I Am Stupid: The “Free Ride” and STEM Sneers
Derek Thompson has a piece up at the Atlantic on how the economy is still largely horrible for young people.
Thompson takes a more cynical stance on the recent jobs report. He largely points out that too many journalists and policymakers use “millennial” to mean “bachelor-degree-holding young person” when most millennials do not graduate from university (just like most people from any generation cohort). Thompson also points out that while college grads are still better job-wise, they are not finding college jobs and they are not getting anything in the form of raises or decent job quality for the most part. Not everyone can work at a hot tech company with casual dress and fridges full of food, and other perks. Thompson concludes that a college degree is a kind of “disaster insurance” now. A college degree offers protection from an absolute decline but it does not guarantee success like it used to. So you basically have a small little life-saver after being thrown overboard in the Atlantic Ocean.
Now comes the comment section (I know). I’ve seen multiple articles like Thompson’s over the past few years. We have discussed them at OT. In the comments section, I always seen people make sneers about useless degrees and also how young people are only losing because liberals/Democrats convinced them about how everything is a “free ride”. So my questions:
1. Doesn’t the STEM sneer just show a basic failure of economics? If everyone can and did major in a STEM field, wouldn’t the wages in those fields be decreased because of oversupply? This is largely what happened to law and pharmacy. Also how is the market supposed to value things like social work which are necessary but not necessarily market-friendly as a position?
2. What does the Free Ride sneer mean? I don’t think people in my generation or younger thought that they were going to get partner-offers or tenure track positions the day after graduation but I do think we (anyone born after 1980) were told about the economic value of a college degree and/or an advanced degree. What a lot of late Generation Xers and Millennials are wondering about is how long do you try before trying gets to be absurd?
I entered law school at the start of the current law-school crisis. A lot of students were panicking because century old firms were shutting down, offers were being rescinded, and summer associate programs were being cancelled. My school put on a mandatory panel of judges and working lawyers. One judge said that when he graduated law school he could only get a job as a house painter. Another lawyer said that he only got jobs by going into firms and saying “give me your loser cases.” The message was that things look bleak but they improve. Things seem a bit more structurally different this time.
The same is true of tenure-track positions. I know a lot of older academics who worked as adjuncts for a year or two before getting permanent positions. Or they lectured while finishing their PhDs. The adjunct to tenure-track position seems much longer. I know people who are basically tenure-track in all but name. Their universities said that they would love to extend them full-time offers but the budget freeze has been going on for years and is not ending anytime soon.
So do we have a lost generation that is going to know a life of largely contingent labor? Do we have a generation that is just going through a longer than average growing pain before getting good jobs? How does the partisan lens cause someone to answer one way or another?