The Bubble Reality

First, read this.

I’ve covered this subject before in this blog.  It never ceases to amaze me how the world catches up eventually.  Yes, I am patting myself on the back.

But there’s one problem in this case: the guy they’re quoting is a billionaire, and a billionaire’s contact with most people’s everyday realities is limited.  And one reality is this: if you’re U.S. born, try to get a job (most people are not born entrepreneurs), let alone one with a living wage, if you do not have a college degree — or these days, even if you do.  The majority of people are not born scholars, but college has become a requirement.  It follows that most of our colleges have degraded into career academies, and most college degrees are nothing more than career certificates.  And that’s a ridiculous waste of time and money.

Take my own former career, for instance.  I was a secretary for many years.  When I graduated from high school, this was one of many job opportunities for females who were not going on to college.  Yes, I said “many.”  There are fewer opportunities now.

Sometime during the acid (not LSD, just nasty) 1980’s, all this changed.  It was during the reign of that “nice man” Ronald Reagan.  And during the 1990’s, when the hippie-yuppie Clintons ruled, it became written in stone: if you were born in the U.S., you could not get a job that paid a living wage if you did not have a college degree.  Period.

Of course, that has graduated to “if you were born in the U.S., you cannot get a job.  Period.”

And so I found myself in the job market again and again, being pushed to the bottom of the barrel in spite of my long experience because I did not have a college degree.  You see, by the 1990’s, a secretary had to have a two-year degree; later they wanted a four-year degree.  It was and is, of course, ridiculous.  But the claim was (and is) that people who only had high-school educations lacked the skills necessary to do secretarial work.  The skills they were talking about were mainly grammar and writing skills, and as a person who spent part of the 1980’s correcting the grammar of a master-degreed English major who used hyphens to the point where entire paragraphs consisted of completely hyphenated sentences, you might say that my view on this was a little dim.  (This was also the era during which corporations, using their new-found might, attempted to alter the English language to suit the spelling deficiencies of their own college-degreed executives.)

Later they went to hiring British and other foreign secretaries, usually on the excuse that not only was their accented English better, but they worked cheaper and heck! a lot of them could speak second languages (not that they had to prove it with degrees, mind you — how racist!). But this was not before years of insisting on the bogus college requirement for the rest of us who were born in the U.S.

Fact is, the whole thing was and is bogus.  In spite of the requirement of a college degree, the average salary for a secretary sunk.  Considering that it was never good to start with, that’s pretty revealing.  See “cheap labor” comment above.

Here’s the absolute truth behind it all: once upon a time, women graduated from college and were made to prove themselves by becoming Girl Fridays.  Pretty often, they were Girl Fridays for good.  Women, you see, could not be relied upon to remain in the workforce and thus were bad bets as hires and/or career candidates.  And as a woman, you could forget the idea of earning a solid wage; if you were lucky, you might be able to live on your salary — just barely — after several years on the job.

Not surprisingly, most secretaries did not have degrees.  It was considered a waste of time.  And believe me, English skills in the days of yore were no better than the English skills of today.  And isn’t showing a college girl to the nearest word processing program just an update of the old “Girl Friday”situation?  Yes, it is.  So let’s add sexism into the mix.  It’s so fashionable right now, anyway.

Back to the point, however, the fact is that it was never about degrees.  It was about cheap labor.  That’s all this ever was about.  Anyone who told you otherwise, including Reagan, Bush, and the Clintons, was lying.

For the majority of people, college degrees have no value.  They are an expensive waste of money, rather like a luxury car.  Once upon a time, a college degree had a certain social status, and in a way it still does — but only as long as one has a master’s degree (in the job market, having a PhD is almost as bad as not having graduated from high school).  For a while, college degrees were like drugs for employers: first they required an AA or AAS, then a BA or BS, and then came the “must have” MBA, and after that, the MBA from a short list of choice colleges.  Clubs formed for the advanced-degreed only (of course, not too advanced).  The rest of us need not apply no matter what our experience.

But the thing is, college degrees are so ubiquitous nowadays that…get this…there’s even a degree for hotel/motel management.  Now that, folks, is carrying things to the nth degree for no reason.  It’s kind of like requiring a secretarial job candidate to have any sort of degree at all past high school.

And so I give you my story about secretaries.  They’re nearly extinct now, but the few you do see are usually degreed, foreign, or just damn lucky to have a job that pays a living wage (sort of, maybe, eventually).  And it was never about college.  It was always about cheap labor.

That’s why your degree is not getting you a job, friend.  My sympathy to you as you stand in the unemployment line, wondering how you will pay off your student loan.

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As I was saying…

I haven’t been blogging much or as passionately lately; I guess it’s because, although there are subjects that I am keenly interested in, such as healthcare reform,  I’m just holding my breath.  In the case of healthcare reform, every new report on its progress seems to be countered by a conflicting report, and it’s too hard to make enough sense of anything to blog about it.  It’s almost as if you have to sort out the news filters first, and I just can’t anymore.  (For instance, last night I saw a headline announcing that the public option was dead; today I found out it is not really that dead, but just sort of, or maybe not at all.  Try to blog about that.)

And so lately, if it wasn’t about Pit Bull Barbie — always an easy target — I haven’t written much.  But today I just ran into an old subject that I used to write about, and I’m not happy to say “I told you so.”  The subject is U.S. higher education — or rather, the meaninglessness of it for U.S. citizens in today’s job market.  Read this link.  (Update: link is broken, and of course I can’t find the article.)

Okay, in spite of the lack of satisfaction, I can once again say I told you so.  Of course I tied it into the fact that U.S. corporations are overlooking qualified U.S. college and trade-school grads and importing foreign workers, and/or recruiting immigrant students from U.S. college classes rather than U.S.-born or naturalized people with the same degrees and qualifications.  Trouble is, if you notice that and remark on it these days, you’re automatically branded a racist and a teabagger.

I’m here to say that I am neither, and to point out that in this case, the facts are a bit inconvenient for the pro-mass-immigration crowd.  But they are too damaging to be ignored for much longer — particularly with the economy the way it is.  The U.S. just doesn’t have enough jobs for everybody in the world, particularly not when we’ve been so incredibly busy shipping so many jobs abroad for the past few decades.  As in healthcare, the status quo makes absolutely no sense and there’s no use defending it.

As a result of the status quo, college degrees have become largely meaningless.  When I hear crap about there being such a thing as a Ph.D. in hotel/motel management…well, there’ s my proof that this shit has gone too far.  What’s next — college degrees in crossing streets successfully on foot?  And if so, will they lead to jobs?

Fact is, college degrees don’t lead to anything anymore, particularly not when you’re in a job market filled with employers who are looking past you because you had the misfortune to be born here.  I’ve read so many articles claiming that the problem is the U.S. education system — but really, why is it that the world seems to be clamoring to get into our universities if they are so bad?  And why is it that a U.S. citizen who graduates often seems to get caught up trying to prove he or she is perfect to a potential employer who is scrambling just as hard to find a reason not to hire U.S. citizens who are grads?  Inevitably the educational system gets blamed by commentators; it’s the catch-all they use to get credit for thinking when they’re actually not.  Let’s not talk about the fact that we don’t really want to hire our fellow citizens!  We need more and better education!   Yes!  Education is the problem!  No worries that the U.S. has one of the most “educated” populations in the world, at least in terms of (very) basic literacy!  We need more education to be competitive in the global workforce, a good part of which is even less educated than we. Note the emphasis on the last phrases, and note that even with all that education, we are not competitive.  Fact is there are a lot of factors at play here, and education is only a small part of the problem (and that’s mostly the issue of resistance to education as displayed in a few communities and a lot of wingnut circles; certainly higher education itself is widely available to those who want and can afford it).

And so I ask, we need more education for what?

I used to work as a secretary.  When I started working, this was the career path for a female who never completed college (hand in air here; there was nothing in it for me and I recognized that outright).  Initially it was okay.  But then through the years, I started seeing a strange thing happening in the want ads: suddenly they were demanding that secretaries have at least two-year college degrees.

A secretary with a college degree? That makes as much sense as a Ph.D in hotel/motel management, which is to say that it’s just fucking stupid.  It devalues education and creates a needless barrier to being self-sufficient, especially since they wanted college degrees for jobs that paid just-barely living wages (and if you didn’t have a degree and got the job anyway, you got paid even less).  In a way, it is the updated continuation of the ancient problem of female college graduates being placed at typewriters, where they had to prove themselves as “girl Fridays” before they got the jobs they actually studied to do, while their male counterparts went straight from college into those jobs.  The difference is, of course, that these days female college graduates are not rare, and they have been placed into competition for the same low-paying jobs as women who do not have degrees, pushing the non-degreed women’s pay even lower.  It’s double on the “unfair” part, and not only to the non-degreed.  As an example, just under a decade ago I saw a multiple-degreed young woman get placed behind a receptionist’s desk — by a female business owner.

But that’s what’s happened in this country generally: the college degree has become so common that it has no meaning whatsoever for the majority of graduates.  In the desperate bid to link college degrees to something, anything, subjects are being studied in colleges that have no business being studied in colleges.  (Trade schools, maybe.)  And too often, there are few or no jobs for the graduates.  As for the traditional college degrees — those in liberal arts and sciences — they have been so devalued that, as the joke goes, they lead to lifelong employment at fast-food restaurants, or maybe as taxi drivers.

It may be good for a quick laugh.  But really, it isn’t a joke anymore.