Is our generation doomed?
EDITORIAL | The ongoing recession and its effects on post-graduate employment
Published: Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 13:04
The inane act of two indebted students has ignited a lively debate concerning the global student loan crisis and the future of our generation in the employment market. Ross Harper and Ed Moyse, both 22 of the United Kingdom, decided to launch BuyMyFace.com in order to raise money to repay a combined student debt total of $80,000. Harper and Moyse have since been offering companies to write and draw on their faces to promote their businesses and, thus far, have actually managed to earn $50,000 in just half a year.
New graduates should not be forced to sell their faces instead of their knowledge or skills. Nor should the future of our generation be put at stake by the irresponsible acts of private firms or the lack of attention from our government. The creation of the housing bubble due to deregulation and excessive risk-taking behaviors (what President Obama argued as “a culture of irresponsibility”) is an important cause of the late 2000s financial crisis, which displaced large numbers of employees and decreased entry-level jobs drastically.
The unemployment rate among recent liberal arts graduates is at 9.4 percent, which is higher than the national average at 8.3 percent. Student-loan debt, at an average of almost $25,000, has hit record levels. Given these gloomy market conditions, the global student debt crisis needs more attention from the government and the general public.
In this day and age, people seem to be willing to do just about anything to bring in some more cash. However, such market-oriented thinking needs to stop at some point. Clearly, Harper and Moyse are willing to sell their faces, while companies such as Ernst & Young are able to purchase that space. Therefore, some economists would argue that BuyMyFace.com is a perfectly rational economic entity. However, each college student is an investment of social resources. Therefore, it is only right that society and the economy give each college graduate a chance to repay society by contributing to its workforce.
Selling our faces as ad space might be fine today but, if the student debt crisis continues, what other parts of our bodies might we be willing to sell? How far would we be willing to go before someone crosses an ethical baseline? As the organizer of a developed civil society, the government should aim to advance living standards, moral values, social integrity and equality.
The Obama administration is indeed pushing for heavy social safety nets and has already made promises of lowering the student loan interests. Opposition voices are also growing louder by the day, however, due to the fear of high government debt as a result of lackadaisical spending. But government spending in creating job opportunities, for example, is necessary for our society. The recession of 2008 should not be allowed to undermine the future of this country. We have the aspiration to find jobs that could earn us our livelihoods, but some of us cannot find the opportunities to follow through unfortunately. It is up to the government to create that opportunity.
What about Wellesley students? Will Wendy Wellesley be one of those who have to struggle through the labor market after graduation? At this point, we have to consider the point of a college education if the skills gained in a liberal arts education cannot be directly, or rather quickly, used in our future careers. 34 percent of Drew University in Madison, N.J. class of 2011 graduates are currently working in the food service, retail and customer service, clerical or unskilled labor sectors. One graduate chillingly reports to The New York Times of having nearly been rejected from a job at the convenience store Wawa because she was considered overqualified. In this currently tense labor market, liberal arts graduates are likely to be treated with discriminating factors that limit our opportunities even more than we could have imagined. The lower employment rates for English Literature or Arts majors suggests the tragic possibility that our world might become a place where practicality is the only thing that matters.
We students end up being thousands of dollars in debt because we (and our families and loved ones who help support us) value a more advanced education, even if there may not be such an obvious value in the current labor market. As students of the liberal arts model, we are seeking intellectual growth in addition to vocational and technical skills that are expected of us. Many students go onto graduate schools in specialized areas (such as law, engineering or medical schools), but those who do not also explore careers in business management, real estate, public relations, administration or teaching. But in pursuing higher degrees, the loans we take out in order to obtain a bachelor’s degree alone are often quite necessary to open up even more possibilities for a more enriching (and financially-stable) life.
The creative entrepreneurship of Harper and Moyse could be regarded as an example of impressive innovation. However, the simple fact that students have to sell a part of their bodies in order to pay off debt suggests profound flaws with our current market-oriented thinking and demonstrates the necessity of government intervention. Students need more job opportunities to pay off their debts, which are necessary to create more educated and knowledgeable members of the society.
As students pursue professional careers in post-graduate life, there is a pressing need for ameliorative changes in the student loans market. The lowering of student loan interest rates (which is set to double to 6.8% in July 2012, back to the 2007 pre-financial crisis levels) has been proposed as a measure to ameliorate student debt but, other than that, the federal government has taken nearly no concrete steps regarding the issue. In order to stop the student loan crisis into becoming another mortgage crisis, the federal government needs to act now. President Obama’s health care coverage extension to 26 years of age and his proposal to lower student loan interest rates are positive measures to extending the social safety net, but these proposals still require congressional support to be put into action. To maintain the support from young people on the eve of the 2012 elections, Obama needs to follow through his promises of lower student loan interests and higher fresh-graduate employment rates.