Saturday, October 15, 2011

Email: Kid, you're thirteen.

Kid, you're thirteen. You're well-spoken, but you're thirteen, and you're ignorant. That's not a condemnation; all kids your age are ignorant. You simply don't know what the hell you're talking about.

The unemployment rate for college graduates under twenty-five is 22.4%, as of end of 2009. Another 20% are working in jobs that don't require degrees. Things may have improved (slightly) since then, but the unemployment rate has been pretty stagnant overall, so probably not. (Source.) Things are slightly better for those with technical degrees, such as engineering or mathematics - roughly the same unemployment rate, but only half are underemployed.

Some of these people are very good friends of mine. They are not "dirty hippies." They are people who were hired in May of 2008 after graduating, moved, signed a lease on an apartment, bought a car, and started paying down their student loans. Then they were laid off in November of 2008 because banks, in a desire for quick and dirty profit, played fast and loose with the financial system and scammed a hell of a lot of people and businesses out of everything they had. (How they did that is extremely complex - I'm taking an entire graduate-level course on how and why we got into the mess we're in now - and this probably isn't the right venue, but if you really want me to explain it to you, I'll try in another email.)

So now those friends of mine have been out of work for coming on three years. They have hustled their asses off to try to make ends meet. They've taken their computer science degrees and applied at every technology and software company you know of and far more that you don't, and been turned away because they didn't have five years experience in their field. They've tried to get jobs at Best Buy and Target and been turned away because they're overqualified. They have put in thousands of job applications - literally thousands, plural - and gotten a single callback which turned out to not even lead to an interview. They've sold the cars they bought - at a loss, because no one is in the market for a car right now - to lower their loan payments, so their ability to go out and interview is extremely constrained. They've sold their guitars and computers and even clothes - not, like Gucci, but trading in Wal-Mart dress shirts for $1 a pop to thrift stores. They've played unpaid gigs in bars for tips to try to meet the minimum payments on the loans they took out to go to college. Through all this, they look for jobs, any jobs, jobs washing dishes in the back of a restaurant that they can't possibly survive on with their debt load from attending a public university, and still they find nothing.

And so, naturally, yes, they are angry. They deserve to be. The median salary in the financial industry is three hundred thousand dollars, even though they are by any reasonable standard (as a whole) amazingly terrible at their job. Corporate profits have returned to pre-crash levels, but those of us who are out here struggling to find work so we can eat sure as hell aren't seeing any of those benefits. I've had friends of mine - men who slept on cots in the architecture building so they could wake up at 5 AM and continue to work on their projects - who calmly told me that if they didn't find something soon, they were just going to sell what little they had left, buy a gun, and blow their fucking brains out. I believe them. I don't blame them. I'd tell them to get help, but they can't afford it and I can't afford to send them.

You're thirteen, in high school. I'm twenty-six, about to graduate from college (I took three years off for entirely responsible reasons, before you mock me.) Things are bad for us out here. We're trying, kid, we really are, but we need some help, and there's not a goddamn one of us that are getting any favors. So, yes, we're angry. And yes, we're blaming the assholes who put us in this position, and yes, we're demanding recompense, because it is the only option left to us. It's a last desperate gasp before some of us either end up having to turn to crime or killing ourselves to save the time and misery of a subsistence-level existence while the same banks that put us in this situation to begin with take half of our paycheck to pay for degrees that we can't use.

You're thirteen. Understand that. You know nothing. Don't fucking condescend to us. You haven't earned that right yet, haven't done your time in the trenches trying to live off minimum-wage jobs, haven't cried as you sold the guitar your grandmother bought you for your sixteenth birthday so you could keep the lights on, haven't had to decide whether or not you were hungry enough to justify the cost of eating a peanut butter sandwich and said "No" for three days. I don't hold that against you; I truly hope you're never in that position. But for you to post that "if you have time to trespass [in a park open to the public, even if privately owned, so it's not trespassing by definition, but whatever,] you have time to work," demonstrates a complete and utter lack of understanding. We'd all much rather be working. Unfortunately, that's not an option, and we're tired of hoping that things will work out tomorrow, that our resume will get picked out of the stack of eight hundred sitting in HR's inbox. So we're making a nuisance of ourselves, in the hope that someone will notice, that someone will fix things, that someone will help us. That is what we're doing, that's why we're doing it.

You're thirteen, you sad little girl. Thirteen. Don't pretend you have any idea what it's like out here in the real world, because you have no fucking clue.