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:
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.)