Why are so many 20-somethings unemployed?

Posted on by TheLastPsychiatrist and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

 

The article describes a selection of students big on dreams and low on hopes.  The future is bleak for them, and they know it.

I am, of course, not insensitive to the way media crafts its narratives, but of the ten or so  20-somethings they interviewed, two were chefs, one an interior designer, one a DJ, another a film major…

The typical way we understand this is as a fault of the structure of the economy; too many young people, wages cheaper elsewhere, not enough jobs here.

What struck me about the article– and about the website “wearethe99percent”– is the number of liberal arts majors.

I know there aren’t any jobs.  The question is whether the youth unemployment isn’t due to a lack of jobs, but to their deliberately choosing a major for which there was no job.  In other words, NOT “why are there so few jobs for liberal arts majors?” but “why do so many people go into the liberal arts?”

I learned two things:

1.  The number of liberal arts majors has collapsed since from 1970-2004.

In one generation, then, the numbers of those majoring in the humanities dropped from a total of 30 percent to a total of less than 16 percent; during that same generation, business majors climbed from 14 percent to 22 percent.

Nothing surprising there.  Which bring me to the the second thing:

 

2. This astonishing chart:

Summarized by this astonishing chart:

the proportion of liberal arts majors has increased since the Crash

 

I don’t know if this is a fluke, or wrong, or what.  It appears that not only are more people going into the– liberal arts?– instead of fewer of them as one might expect; but a greater proportion of the American students are graduating with liberal arts degrees since the Crash.

It’s easy to criticize, but my intention here is to ask the sociological question: what motivates the decision to go into liberal arts specifically when one knows job prospects are poor?  Of course I understand interest in the major; but why choose to go into debt with nothing on the horizon?

Time will tell whether this trend continues; will the proportion rise or fall in 2012, the first post-Crash class?

Possible explanations include:

1. Many liberal arts majors have a legitimate expectation of alternative income: marriage, family inheritance, etc.  (viz. Jenna Bush majoring in education.)  It would be a remarkable research project to find out what the kids of the 1% are majoring in; or the median income of the parents of the students in each major.

2. Liberal arts majors do not envision entering the job market as liberal arts graduates; from the outset, they plan on going on to more “useful” post-graduate training.  (e.g. philosophy now, med school later.)

3. Parental guidance: their parents are teachers/writers/etc, and they believe the poor job prospects won’t really apply to them.

4. Many jobs only require a degree, and the actual major doesn’t matter (e.g. some management jobs, civil service jobs, etc)  So they choose an “easy” major.

5.  The Ponzi Scheme: government loans mean the school can charge any price, and students will pay any price (they don’t feel it until later) so majors are not, or less, valued for their ROI.

 

Again, my intention isn’t to criticize, and I don’t even know if these statistics are right (too early to see a trend.) 

Related posts:

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  2. Washington Post Fails at Ranking High Schools
  3. Fry-Cooks or Dilettantrepreneurs?… Artists and Liberal Artists… What do you want to be when you grow up?
  4. Academically Adrift in the Free Market
  5. The Rap Game is Changing

35 Responses to Why are so many 20-somethings unemployed?

  1. Dan Dravot says:

    I doubt the jobs aren’t there because the economy’s too efficient; efficient economies generate a lot of surplus wealth. If everybody’s squeezed, it’s not because the economy’s too efficient. It’s because the economy’s not efficient enough.

    As for why they do it…

    A degree is an absolute requirement for joining (or remaining in) the middle class. They must get a degree. It’s an absolute moral imperative. But they’re too lazy and stupid to major in anything that takes brains. So they get the best degree they can. It’s a forlorn hope, but giving up entirely is the only alternative their socialization allows them to imagine.

    Yeah, they could in theory find some third way — if they weren’t so lazy and stupid.

    • JohnJ says:

      I agree that many kids seek a degree “because it’s the thing to do”, just like getting married used to be. But like how getting married used to be, since most people don’t know why they’re doing it, the bad choices they make are not necessarily the result of laziness or stupidity. I think it’s a little more complex than that. I don’t think you can say that people are more lazy and stupid than they used to be. Okay, maybe lazy. But then the question still is “why?”

  2. derKapitalist says:

    “The first generation creates wealth, the second manages
    assets, the third studies art history and the fourth
    degenerates.” –Otto von Bismarck

    • Zarathustra says:

      “The Irishman no longer knows any need now but the need to eat, and indeed only the need to eat potatoes — and scabby potatoes at that, the worst kind of potatoes.” –Karl Marx

  3. BHE says:

    Another possibility: the constant drumming into the heads of today’s youth the currently accepted wisdom “do what you love”. Well, what I love is drinking, fucking and getting high and listening to Skrillex, all of which are not only practiced but practically encouraged by artists through the centuries, and besides learning math is boring. No cubicle life for me, I’m going to be a rock star/fashion designer/author/war journalist!

    • JohnJ says:

      I think this is more accurate than Dan’s oversimplification. Rather than laziness or stupidity, it probably has much to do with the lack of direction. Society constantly tells us that influencing someone to make what we think is a good decision is somehow “imposing” our values, or even bullying. I think the resulting aimlessness explains at least some of what TLP has highlighted.

    • operator says:

      You like Skrillex, too? We should party sometime.

  4. RexKarz says:

    I would suppose all the reasons you listed factor into the decision on a college major. Each of those would be weighted according to significance; arbitrary scale 1 – 100. My WAG might be: 1 = 10; 2 = 10 ; 3 = 20; 4 = 30; 5 = 50.

    There are others, however that I believe you failed to list. To wit:

    6. STEM science classes are much harder (chemistry for science majors vs chemistry for liberal arts majors) and have pre-requisite requirements than courses for liberal arts majors. Add to that the independent study and homework requirements, specifically the hours it takes, and it is a major discouragement if not a complete blocker for many high school graduates. The definition of “high school graduate” is also been so watered down and compromised by political bull, teacher quality, religious fanatics and union contracts [don't get me started on this. My woman is a 25 year elementary school teacher and the stories she tells are horrific] that many graduates are not qualified for STEM work at the college level unless their families are aggressively involved in supplementing their high school curricula with their own expertise and/or relevant unbiased material. I assign a weight of 60 to this.

    7. Many prospective college students have no confidence they can pass muster in STEM college courses because they know they are not prepared. The expectation is that college is a must, so they go anyway and take the path of least resistance on a less demanding major. — See also: Mike Rowe’s work on the skilled trades as an option for many who are not prepared for or should not go to college. I assign a weight of 70 to this.

  5. TheCoconutChef says:

    Reason 5 is only why it is allowed to happen but not what motivates them to choose liberal art major.

    Maybe a variation on 4…

    They know they need a degree but every other degree out there feels like a trap (“I’m not gonna live the rest of my life in a cubicle man!”) and so liberal art is a comfortable place to be for someone who still wants to believe he has a shot at a more glamorous lifestyle. Four more years of being a potential something.

    We’re also talking about a demo that hasn’t experienced a real recession since they were born and for whom the Iraq/Afghan war were daily show segment (I’m not saying they should have). Even now, as you said, what is being sold as the greatest economic crisis since the great depression isn’t really being felt.

    Meaning: they don’t contemplate a world in which a liberal art degree might be an actual hindrance because “nothing will change”. Cataclysm don’t exists and my parent are taking care of it.

  6. Hilomh says:

    I dropped out of college because I realized being a music major (with a full-ride scholarship) was a dumb idea. It wasn’t until years later I realized I need to get a “normal” job, so now I’m an accounting major.

    I realized a few things comparing college in 2012 to college 2004. First off, its a scam. Every single class has homework that’s done online, usually through the textbook’s websites. You have not only multiple opportunities to do homework problems so that you can earn a 100%, but you can also take most tests multiple times as well. Every part of every class I’m in is designed to get me to pass regardless of how well I (don’t) know the material.

    Then I had a thought: what if the student loan system in general is nothing but a scam? Right off the bat, students can borrow money at <6%, well below market rates. And as long as you are enrolled and passing your classes, the money keeps flowing. But since it's near impossible to NOT pass, its basically a cheap line-of-credit courtesy of the tax payers.

    "Well society benefits by investing in our future." That may be true generally, but I'm not convinced its a sound investment. Lets say that instead of investing a surplus of tax dollars, the government decides to give out loans at sub-market rates. In order for that to be a valuable investment for society, the loan recipient would need to increase their income post-college enough so that the tax dollars they pay are MORE than the money the government would have made had they invested the surplus dollars into a higher interest yielding security. Sure, this happens with doctors and nurses, since jumping from minimum wage to 50,000-100,000k+ puts you in a much higher bracket. But what about these liberal art majors who are either unemployed or barely getting by? Is it reasonable to suspect that high-paying, liberal art based jobs are just around the corner, or is loaning cheap money to college students ultimately a poor investment, and therefore a detriment to society?

    If it is indeed costing society money, then it confirms my original suspicion: Student loans are nothing more than welfare. They are extremely easy to get, the repayment terms are laughable, and the pay-out is regular. It is, however, much easier to sell the idea of "student loans" to Americans than it is to sell the idea of "cheap money for all."

  7. vandal says:

    So I’m in my second year of engineering and want to bring in some insight for the whole “STEM is too hard”.

    It is hard and there’s generally less lee way for engineering classes. As in teachers rarely put up with arguing a grade and the curve of a physics 2 class could be 30/100 though often the teacher will forgo the curve and tell the class to make it up on later exams. You have 3 midterms instead of 1 and they’re all various pains in the ass. You don’t bullshit a problem set like you could an english paper and the readings are much more technical. You right a 1000 word essay one week but programming students will write 1000 lines of code one week and if you get a ; out of place there it’s a 0 and everything crashes.

    Now I get the need for rigor in STEM since lives are on the line of engineers work in the real world (the classic joke is a teacher saying “‘Partial credit’?!? Do you get ‘partial credit’ if your structure collapses and kills a hundred people?!?”)

    Yes there are prerequisites upon prerequisites but if you follow the adviser there’s generally a plan to get you doing all of it within 4 years. The issue is that you have to actively decide you want engineering. You can’t fumble along trying courses out and realize engineering is for you. You either go in deciding or sometimes people switch from computer science to electrical engineering but it’s hardly ever “Well I was doing creative writing but realized mechanical engineering was my passion”.

    The problem is in how few high schoolers actually know or have a clue to what they want. Not to mention high school science and math being shitty (I never saw a proper mathematical proof of the pythagorean theorem till mid first year of uni, didn’t learn cross vector multiplication till calc 3d either).

    High school should provide various subjects and career interests. But real ones. Not that bullshit career day thing they do. Actual availability to robotics and astronomy and STEM in general. Obviously also increase the quality of math and science as well. Maybe then some students will consider studying STEM fields and not be blown the hell off by the rigor of calc 1.

    Though I do see that more and more. More middle schools trying out first robotics and magnent programs focusing in STEM. Even cartoon shows focused around building things that kids will watch.

  8. Sid says:

    Fatalism?

    Four, five years ago, the media was full of accounts of kids winding up moving back in with their parents after college, unable to get or keep work. If when you’re applying to college — because as many folks above and elsewhere have observed, you have to go to college, it’s the Done Thing in that social class — and picking a major, well, if you’re going to have no job prospects regardless of what you major in, you might as well major in something you love.

    In fact, it might be more psychologically comforting to pick something completely financially useless, so you can cocoon within the ivory tower, and not be reminded of the impending worlds of work and commerce, which look a lot like doom.

    The engineering students down the hall spend their undergraduate degrees wondering if there will be any jobs for them when they graduate, and worry how they’ll compete with older, more experienced engineers. The english majors? They know there aren’t any jobs for them, and there’s a relief in not having to worry.

    • Medusa says:

      Fatalism?

      That was the first thought I had while reading this article.

      Also, the pervasive post-modern perspective, by definition, leaves the youngters without that thread of meaning that used to be a given, without any kind of meta-narrative to pave the road before them as it has for previous generations. Another reason why they may feel it doesn’t matter what they major in; either way it’s just as meaningless/meaningful. Money or no money, future or no future, marriage or open relationship, it’s all the same. And without that meta-narrative, it’s more difficult to see how things may play out in the future, as that linear vision is faded and blurred, so it’s like, “Eh, what the fuck. I’m majoring in basket-weaving, because I can’t predict the future worth of my career choice, so I might as well”.

      I also think the “Special Snowflake” syndrome may come into play. They may be aware that their liberal arts degree has very little chance in resulting in a well-paying job, statistically speaking, but everyone thinks or hopes that they are the exception. Especially when you are college-aged; hasn’t this always been the norm to some degree?

    • H says:

      Agreed. It may be easier in some ways to major in the liberal arts in a depression. A little exposition, with TLP’s ‘N’ word:

      It’s FUN to be a liberal arts major with no career prospects, “Haha, I’m an English major, no jobs for me, I majored in English in a recession, what an IDIOT, amirite.” College feels like what it’s ‘supposed’ to be, a daring intellectual experiment. It’s not so fun to major in English when you know that in 4 years you’ll be working 8-‘whenever you’re done with your work’ in an office like all your friends, only they’ll be making $60k/yr to your $35k.

      Majoring in English in a recession is exactly what you’re not supposed to do. Say you do get a job, you’ve succeeded DESPITE majoring in English, which means you’re awesome. If you don’t get a job, not only do you not have to work, but you’re protected from the feeling of failure by knowing that you majored in English. “I mean, I majored in English in a recession, HAHA, what did I expect?” And you get to be mad at your parents again, how could you do this to me, all you cared about was that I went to college, not what I studied, no guidance/parenting, you just liked telling your stupid wine club friends that I went to Williams. And now your parents have to support you and do your laundry. You get all the sweet taste of rebellion, with none of the consequences, because you can make your shitty circumstances part of your “English major” identity (note: this likely applies almost exclusively to kids whose parents went to college and went on to join the middle/ upper middle class). Granted, it won’t last forever, but few people really think they’ll be unemployed at 35.

      Compare that to someone who majors in business, or even Economics. If you don’t get a job after graduating, who are you?

      Not mentioned above is actually becoming a successful writer, because come on. But there’s nothing wrong with the future successful writer majoring in English, that’s exactly where s/he should go. But if everyone who thinks they might (defined very loosely) be a future successful writer, regardless of talent or interest in writing (vs “being a writer”), and they are protected from the consequences of being wrong by the above…

  9. Red says:

    I’m 18, my senior year is almost over, and i still have no idea what to do about college. My parents, of course, are saying GO GO GO. So, mostly as a joke, i told them i was going for a degree in philosophy. They said “Great! Where do you want to go?” Realizing that my parents are more concerned about hiding who they have been screwing from each other than thinking about advice to give to their son, I am as lost as ever. So, what do I do? Any advice?

    You may be interested to know that, in my high school, the “official” advice to all students is go to college or your life will suck. The common sentiment among my peers is that any college is better than none, and almost everyone i know is going to college. A lot of those people are not prepared/dont need/ dont really want to. This, I predict, will result in many, many more liberal arts majors to come.

    • operator says:

      Minimum wage employment is likely far below your skill with the English language alone. Most people tack on a piece of paper to prove they’re not illiterate, but those pieces of paper mean less and less when semi-literate people are issued one with “points for attendance”.

      If you’re capable of stringing together correctly-spelled words into coherent sentences it’s possible – nay, likely – that you could do better (and, given how many semi-literate business graduates are churned out every year, there’s no doubt you could find a marketable degree if you knew what you wanted).

      Forgive me for speaking from personal experience (it rarely applies to others and a biased narrator never shares the whole truth) but maybe you have an opportunity to learn from my failures:

      Find an understanding with your family and graciously accept anything your parents are willing to offer – maybe you’re not ready to jump into college, but (unless you don’t mind homeless shelters – visit one while it’s still a choice, see how you feel about it) you will probably never have another offer of free-ish room and board again in your life.

      If you do elect to do the minimum wage thing, don’t let it define you. Should you ever find yourself hating who you’ve become for sticking with a job, make that the day you quit – even in this economy, minimum wage labor is easy to come by for people who can string together correctly-spelled words into coherent sentences.

      If you become fed up with minimum wage and decide to try the “easy money” route, don’t ever invest more than you can afford to lose, avoid screw-ups, (if you don’t know the type already, you’ll recognize one the first time he opens his mouth) and take all necessary precautions – you may find that there’s actually nothing “easy” about that money after all.

      No one will ever tell you how much you are worth: it’s not in their interest to do so. You will never make as much as you could be making if you worked for yourself. Find a niche and work for yourself if you can find something you’re truly passionate about. You have more tools to achieve self-sufficiency this way now than anyone in the history of mankind has ever had. Start small with contract jobs on Craigslist or online 1099 boards – pick the right clients, then put the needs of your clients before your own and the reputation you build will start paying off.

      … and, if you can’t find something you’re truly passionate about, keep trying until you do.

    • Guy Fox says:

      DO go to college. It’s possible to get where you want to be -wherever that is- without, but it’s a steeper, harder climb. Just in terms of social norms, which others here have pointed out, many doors are a lot harder to open without that merit badge. To get a feel for it, imagine pursuing your desired career named Skeeter or Brit-Nay – you’d be fighting against a similar array of assumptions.

      BUT you don’t have to go to college right away. One very bright acquaintance of mine went to college straight out of school and half-assed his way through a ‘general studies’ degree consisting of history and communications. He’s now a miserable bartender in his 30s wondering what might have been. Another bright one farted around for five years after school, but in that time figured out what he really wanted to do, got a degree in acoustic engineering, and is now making a pile of dough in a temperate climate and having a blast.

      AND don’t drown yourself in debt doing it. Whether you call it a Ponzi scheme, a youth unemployment buffer or whatever, the American student loan system’s defects are so bad they’re a cliche (!). Seriously, the rest of the world is not mystified by the fact that young American college graduates, the ones society grooms to be homeowners, end up defaulting on their mortgages, their student loans, or both, given that the tuition rates effectively saddle them with a second (often poorly performing) mortgage. So do what the rest of the world does: study elsewhere. E.g. Tuition in Canada is not cheap, but you can expect to pay a tenth of what you would even at most second-tier American universities. England is expensive, but you can expect to pay about a third of what you would at comparable American schools. In Germany, France and the Netherlands, you’ll pay between nothing and 1000 €/semester, and programmes taught in English are available and becoming even more common (though learning another language or three is never a bad thing). Think about that: even if you/your parents take out a loan to cover 100% of reasonable living expenses while you study at a decent European school, you’ll still be ahead of the game relative to studying anywhere in the lower 48.

      If you were going to buy a new car or laptop, you’d probably spend a while shopping around and getting informed about what’s on the market. That logic applies doubly to this decision.

      But you sound like a clever kid/young man. Work hard, don’t make excuses, and be a mensch to everyone unless they give you good reason not to, and you’ll do okay.

    • Jerboa says:

      It’s pretty fucked up that you had to come to us for advice, but I teach college, so I’ll give it a shot. Your useless parents are actually correct that college is a good idea. As you noticed, most of your age group is going to college, and the list of median+ wage jobs you can acquire without a college degree has been dwindling for decades.

      Where you go to college isn’t important, but I’d recommend a large state school, since they’re cheap and the student population is big enough that you should be able to find a group of people you get on well with.

      Your major also isn’t necessarily important. You need to do two things in college. The first is to prove you’ve developed a skillset that will get you a job you don’t hate, and the second is to find as many great teachers as possible and enroll in their classes. For your first year of college you need to focus on the second part. Great teachers can make any subject interesting, and hopefully by your second year you’ll discover the subjects that interest you, which gets you halfway to finding a career that doesn’t devour your soul .

    • DonDrapersAcidTrip says:

      Forget getting a job you’re not going to hate, that’s a fantasy. Forget whatever your dream might be, once you achieve it turns out it was stupid all along. Sounds like everybody here is trying to be nice and give you the same old, your a bright kid just work hard load of horseshit when really the best you can hope for is a job that’ll contribute to you eventually just wanting to kill yourself as minimally as possible so that by the time you do want to kill yourself your too old to do anything about it. If you’re lucky or have connections you’ll have a better chance at this. If you weren’t born with those things to begin with I say why bother with college, might as well just meditate on zen koans or shit until washing dishes becomes something good enough for you.

    • JohnJ says:

      There’s no point in going to college until you know what you want to do. Unless you want to go to a cheap community college, where an associate’s degree is transferable to pretty much anything anywhere else.

      There are lots of other choices too: the Peace Corp, the military, even just getting a low-paying job to sustain you while you decide isn’t a bad idea IF you don’t screw your life up with drugs or knocking someone up.

    • sunshinefiasco says:

      Take a year and work/travel. You’ll show up less stupid than your classmates, and you may a little better idea of what you want after that. Also, be honest with yourself: what kind of school are you headed to? If you’re heading to State St. College, it might be better to hold off until you have a plan, but if you’re heading to a school that actually graduates people who get hired in the humanities/social sciences, you can go and play around for a semester or two. You just need a full on plan by th end of the first 1.5 years or so.

      If/once you get to school: Also: http://chrisblattman.com/advising/undergraduate-general/
      One of my biggest regrets is not taking stats.

  10. vandal says:

    @Red: I’d figure out what you want to do more than what college to go to (though figuring the timing, you’ve probably applied already to wherever). At the very least a list of possible interests. Then look at schools that have those specific fields in quality and go from there.

    Also side note on college but I feel like it’s the go to of the narcissistic parents as the last ditch make-em’-an-adult effort. They realize the kid is fucked since he can’t separate laundry or take out the trash without acting like he’s a slave so they hope college will safely force that into them since they couldn’t be damned to. A sort of bike with training wheels steered a bit up so you get the feel of riding without them.

    But if you don’t want to go to college don’t. No one is really forcing you. Sure your parents but the worst they can do is kick you out and cut you off which is unlikely. Still let’s assume that happens.

    So Red you graduate HS and don’t go to college. You enter the real world like so: go out and get some job with low skill, like as a factory worker, truck driver, grocery store worker, cashier of sorts, food cooker, someone that cleans, bar tending if you have the skill. Here’s a tip though: if you have some specific interest go with that more. For example I wanted to own a bar/restaurant so during HS I waitressed and fully intended to work at a bar later and pick up the personal skills and connections needed to eventually open up my own place later on (like when past 30, till then I knew I’d be able to make a living off tips). Seems like a good life.

    So if you want to own a cupcake shop don’t major in liberal arts. Try getting a job working at a bakery and learn and practice the skill. Watch how the owner does business. Over time gain advice and knowledge. Eventually after years you’ll have the ability to do it yourself and you’ll be less in debt than if you majored in liberal arts

  11. lbcya says:

    Perhaps, some students “convince” themselves they enter liberal art degrees simply for the “passion of the subject”. In reality it is to buy time. They don’t have to worry about getting a career today, wait four years down the line to do so. What? No jobs….not my fault…I went to college!!!

    I know there are liberal artist out there who do the work. but I believe the majority out there, believe being a liberal artist is someone they should be, then go out there and do minimal work to believe they really are,…you can usually tell who they are by their use of photogram facebook updates. I wonder if this is a defense mechanism to elude responsibility? they don’t pick a productive major not because they couldn’t possibly be engineers, programmers, etc. (remember most of these people probably work jobs they don’t like anyways), but because if they do, and they failed, that means they failed through effort. if they fail as liberal artist you can blame the economy…but then again,,, can you fail as a liberal artist…it’s all about the art right? let me check and see how my philosophy degree is doing.

  12. Or says:

    Part of it might be the ever-increasing proportion of people going to college: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Educational_attainment.jpg meaning that those going to college now who wouldn’t have gone to college in other times are on the lower end of the aptitude scale. This doesn’t agree well with the 1970-2004 trend, but if we live in a time when, as Red says, “the ‘official’ advice to all students is go to college or your life will suck,” and we’re squeezing into the universities the last people who could possibly have any defensible reason to go, it could be a big factor.

    “Time will tell whether this trend continues; will the proportion rise or fall in 2012, the first post-Crash class?”

    I think there could be a delayed effect and it might fall. These kids were forming expectations of what to do with their lives while their parents thought their rising home values meant they could live large. Right when one bubble popped, the kids were safely handed off to start living in a bubble of another sort. And when they come home for winter break everybody is Christmas shopping as always, right? There’s no tangible evidence of a need to switch majors.

  13. Elisabeth says:

    I think you have it wrong on a number of counts.

    (1) It’s a fallacy to claim that the people currently in the “non paying” majors would be better off in one of the “paying” ones. If nothing else, people who are good at, say, English, would probably not be very good at Computer Science.

    How would they be better off at the 25th percentile in Computer Science than at the 75th percentile for English?

    (2) Let’s say that all these people DO go into the “paying ” majors. What then?

    The market would be completely swamped. Does anyone think that any country can sustain huge numbers of plumbers, electricians, computer science people, mathematicians etc., any more than it can the liberal arts majors?

    Yes, there are huge problems with incorporating people into the economy. But that’s a matter of insufficient economic growth. The supposedly useful majors are only useful insofar as there is some kind of scarcity.

    (3) Perhaps surprisingly, you are not questioning the statistics that you’ve been given.

    The “useful” degrees, especially in science and engineering, are for jobs that are being given to H1-B visa holders. For instance, graduating with a Computer Science degree might get you a good wage at first, but by the time you are 35 you are considered too old.

    Academe and industry are cutting back on hiring, and university labour practises are so bad that they’d make a Dickensian tycoon blush.

    You need to start considering that, bullshit statistics aside, the people on the ground might be on to something. There are no long term careers in many of the “useful” majors. Realistically, someone who is 18/22/26 now would be no worse off with a liberal arts degree. They’d probably have more fun getting it.

  14. MrBoom says:

    Why is it always the philosophy majors who get picked on? I switched from a biology major/chem minor to a philosophy major/biology minor recently, and honestly, I’m not very worried. Anxious maybe, but I would be anxious no matter the major. Find me the homeless guy with a philosophy degree; find me the McDonald’s employee with the BA in philosophy. The homeless guys always have the same story: “I graduated with a degree in engineering/chemistry/molecular science, but then the cops caught me with 10 bricks of cocaine/weed/meth amphetamines….”

    Consider numbers two and four on TLP’s list of explanations. Someone who majors in physics and passes with all C’s will never get a thought from admissions at any medical, dental, and law school. Someone who majors in Chinese with a few biology and chemistry classes on the side, getting good grades, stands a good chance of being a MD.

    There is no difference in admission standards between the various undergraduate majors (excluding certain special programs); as soon as you are accepted into a college you just scribble down whatever you want to major in. Writing “Biology” as your major doesn’t make you any better at biology than if you had written “English” (and vice-versa). In order to have a biology major you do not need to like biology, understand biology, or even know what biology is, you just have to write down “biology.” And once you choose your major you can (finances permitting) keep taking classes until you pass enough to graduate. It doesn’t surprise me that the majority of employers and postgraduate schools do not take your choice of major into heavy consideration, and why single tests such as MCAT are weighted so strongly against four years of coursework.

    • vandal says:

      I actually know a homeless guy with a philosophy degree. He came from UTSA then UT. He’s in his late 40s or early 50s now. His name’s Rhett, we call him Red, and he pays rent from government social security of some sort and does occasional odd jobs now so not homeless. But he was for near 2 decades.

      • MrBoom says:

        Damn. Shoulda known not to make blanket statements. Caught with my foot in my mouth.

        How much cocaine did they catch him with? Heh, I’m just kidding, sort of.

  15. JohnJ says:

    Another interesting note is that this applies predominantly to culturally white Americans. Immigrants and cultural minorities don’t display this trend as strongly.

  16. thestage says:

    I’ll ignore all the rather reductive “no one should major in the humanities or liberal arts, because here in america we middle manage until the apocalypse (which will be brought on by the proclivities of middle management),” and go with the one practical argument no one is making: in the “post crash” (cue strings) world, no fucking degree is going to get you a job. The lie that trolling around business management classes is going to produce a $60k job when someone hands you that paper is so blatant that right now even your neighbor’s little wretch can see through it. So why bother? Yeah, yeah, chemical engineering this, biomedical whatever that–those are trades. People that don’t know anything about cars don’t jump to be automechanics, and people that don’t know anything about carbon chains aren’t going to be synthesizing chemicals

  17. Red says:

    Thank you to everyone who responded — your insights and advice have certainly helped in my decision. Which, if your curious, is to attend a cheap-as-dirt community college and live rent free at home until i can figure out what i really want to do. Thanks again to Operator, Guy Fox, Jeroboa, DonDrapers, Johnj, and Vandal.

  18. sunny day says:

    Nobody’s noticed that these kids are in Greece, Italy, Spain? Greece is an economically fucked hellhole with a 50% unemployment rate for people under 25, if I remember right (the 50% is right, the age I’m not sure about). These aren’t American kids who are like “dang, I would have earned more off the bat if I had been an engineer,” but rather people who will probably end up leaving behind their friends and family and immigrating to an entirely different country altogether, where they may end up being able to do something close to their original desires or they may end up being janitors. The Italian and Spanish kids are probably better off, but still.

    The European university system is also different from the American one. Greece’s looks particularly useless (they don’t accept three-year degrees? all right, then) but some of these kids may have gotten a free ride through, which presumably makes being a “chef” major or whatever less financially stupid, at least up front.

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