grumble grumble I would never have expected legions of twentysomethings who want to work for noncommercial causes using expensive degrees which impart no skills more advanced than a GED to have so much difficulty finding great jobs right after college.
So, if (or, perhaps, when) all the people with liberal arts degrees go back to Javaschool and emerge in a couple of years with M.S. degrees in CS, is your company going to hire them all?
Or are you just jerking them around?
We've been down this road before. In the 1990s, everyone flocked to "CS" school to get in on all the sweet, sweet jobs of the future. Was the aftermath of that fun for anyone?
It is often read, on HN, that it isn't enough to just go through the motions of getting a technical degree. You need other qualities to succeed. The person with all the right qualities is rare. True enough. But does this mean that only those rare people with the right qualities deserve to live outside of poverty, or the imminent risk of poverty?
My father has a degree in political science. Fortunately, the economy wasn't broken in the 1960s, so he was able to get a white-collar job, buy a house, and have kids, like most other people with "basic" college degrees in the 1960s. Back then it was even expected that you could have a decent life with a mere high school diploma, or that GED you mention.
That doesn't work so well anymore. Is that a good thing? Be careful what you wish for. We are well on our way to building a society in which you can't have a middle-class lifestyle as, say, an insurance underwriter or medical records clerk without a college degree in a technical or professional field, or maybe an M.S. degree. I think that's a bad idea. Many people have more education than they need, and an increasing number of people have more education than they want (considering that they have to go into debt for it, up front). Forcing unwilling people to struggle through advanced degrees tends to produce a lot of stress and pain, water down the advanced degrees, dilute the pool of degree holders, and waste absolutely enormous amounts of time.
Oh, and it produces unnecessary barriers to entry. We could require all hotel administrators to hold an advanced degree in hotel administration. How does that sound to the AirBnB folks?
And all it does is buy time. In the end, jobs are as much about the demand for labor as the quality of the supply. Ph.D.s can be unemployed too. Highly trained semiconductor engineers can be unemployed. Automotive engineers are probably not doing so well right now.
Shadenfreude has an evil reputation for a reason. Please try to resist the temptation.
Fortunately, the economy wasn't broken in the 1960s, so he was able to get a white-collar job, buy a house, and have kids,[...] That doesn't work so well anymore. [...] We are well on our way to building a society in which you can't have a middle-class lifestyle as, say, an insurance underwriter or medical records clerk...
This statement just reflects a lack of understanding of what "middle class" meant in 1960. The standard of living of the American poor today is quite high, in many regards higher than the standard of living of the middle class in 1960.
According to the BLS, the $29.95 that coffee maker cost in 1960 would be $221 in 2010 dollars.
I know your $5,000 vs. $50,000 figures are very rough, but $5,000 in 1960 would be $36,855 in 2010 dollars (and after taxes is not trivial, e.g. the personal exemptions that sheltered average families from the full and very high tax rates in the '50s were largely nullified by inflation over the next couple of decades before Reagan started a variety of corrections).
He's saying that the quality of life improvement provided by a coffee maker in 1960 consumed 0.6% of the typical 1960 middle class salary vs. 0.03% of a typical 2010 middle class salary. A 20x reduction in cost for the same quality of life improvement for the middle class, in this example.
I think it's easier to understand how much cheaper the coffee maker is today, both in terms of absolute price and what people can afford, if you translate it into today's dollars. "It would cost $221" is a lot more visceral than 0.6% of a putative generic annual salary.
One thing I added was "doing the math"; yummyfajitas didn't go that far (which is no reflection on his posting) ... plus I think it's useful to point out just how significant inflation has been over the years.
The value of the percentage metric is that it allows you to compare a certain benefit in terms of the work it took to obtain it at different times. Given 2000 hours/year of work, it would have taken 12 hours of work to buy a coffee maker in 1960 vs. 0.6 hours of work in 2010.
To me, this makes the comparison exceedingly easy to understand.
Food has gotten dramatically cheaper . As far as housing, owner equivalent rent, not purchase price, is the relevant quantity. People certainly spend more on housing, but they also get more. Houses are bigger now, and have more amenities; for example, in 1960, about 80% of houses had flush toilets, today close to 100% do. I really doubt that health care available in 1960 is that much more expensive, though you can certainly spend a lot on medical treatments that didn't exist back then.
Elizabeth Warren's book, "The Two Income Trap" compares a median family of 1970 to one of 2000. She discovered that even though the modern family gets far more consumer goods than the older family (bigger houses, more cars, etc), they spent roughly the same or less on most major expense categories except tax (which went up considerably).
Most "stuff" like : clothing, food, appliances, cars (i.e. most "stuff") got cheaper, but healthcare and housing went through the roof and more than offset the things that got cheaper.
The unfortunate thing is that healthcare and shelter are necessities ("needs") and not nice-to-have things ("wants").
Even more unfortunate is that health care in US is usually tied to the place of employment. Losing one's job could mean loosing health care and losing the place to live. When before it could have been not being able to afford good food, clothes, TVs, a car.
Consequently the 2 largest reasons for bankruptcies are : health care bills and mortgage payments, usually as a result of losing a job. (Of course, jobs are often "lost suddenly" no long after a "cancer" diagnosis).
An employer can excert quite a bit of control over an employee if they know the employee has a mortgage to pay, and all of his familiy is on that employer's insurance. An employee couldn't be "squeezed" as much if they didn't have a large mortgage and could walk out and his family could retain the insurance. This has been postulated is also the reason why per employee productivity has been going up since the 70s -- people simply have been putting in more hours and doing more work because they are afraid of losing their jobs.
(I don't have any data to back this up at the moment, downvote if you like).
If health care circa 2010 (including things like MRIs and Viagra) is a "need", then every single person in 1960 did not have their needs met.
Also, if you have evidence that health care bills cause many bankruptcies, I'd be curious to see it. All I'm aware of is Elizabeth Warren's utterly flawed studies, unfortunately widely and uncritically cited in the media (she considers Michael Vick's bankruptcy to be caused by medical bills).
"(Of course, jobs are often "lost suddenly" no long after a "cancer" diagnosis)."
Losing your job != losing your insurance - look up COBRA. If you have no savings it might, but having no savings is a choice.
"This has been postulated is also the reason why per employee productivity has been going up since the 70s -- people simply have been putting in more hours and doing more work because they are afraid of losing their jobs."
I'm not sure that chart shows that food has become dramatically cheaper. It measures food expenditures of families and individuals, but there were more and bigger families and fewer individuals in past times, so of course you're going to spend more on food when you're a 1950s family with 4 kids and one breadwinner than when you're a modern double-income couple with 0, 1, or 2 children.
"So we looked at the data for two-income families today earning an average income. What we found was that, while those families certainly make more money than a one-income family did a generation ago, by the time they pay for the basics -- an average home, a health insurance policy, a second car to get Mom to work, child care, and taxes -- that family actually has less money left over at the end of the month to show for it."
As for houses, you have to pay an arm and a leg to not live in a neighborhood that has crime problems that didn't exist in 1960.
An average home is considerably bigger now than in 1970. Health insurance pays for more medicine than in 1970 and probably has a lower deductible as well. Two cars > one car. So that indicates we have considerably more stuff than we did in the past.
In any case, Warren shows incomes increased about 75%. Housing increased similarly, health insurance and other such goods increased less than 75%, and tax was the biggest increase at 140%.
(In the book, she presented the tax numbers in a strange way, completely differently from all her other numbers which confused nearly every reporter who wrote about the book.)
More than just an opinion. For example, your Panglossian summary failed to mention that bankruptcies are through the roof. Elizabeth Warren is not stupid. She didn't come up with that opinion for no reason.
I doubt anyone else is reading this anymore so I'm not going to go into detail. I just wanted to correct what you said so others wouldn't be misled. You can have the last word.
> But does this mean that only those rare people with the right qualities deserve to live outside of poverty, or the imminent risk of poverty?
Send all your impoverished down to OKC. I'm not sure where you live, but absolutely everybody is hiring entry-level jobs here with minimal or no skills required.
Lifeguards and childcare-providers are paid $10-12 an hour, entry-level librarian positions are in the $10 range, upscale retail is $10-12, even food service jobs are $7-8. I see "help wanted" signs everywhere I look.
As long as you don't have debt and live frugally, you can get a clean apt, eat 3 meals a day, have broadband internet, and stash a good chunk away for a rainy day with a job like that. Cost of living is low here; that pay is far above the poverty level.
The problem is, a bunch of twentysomethings went in debt to to get a polysci degree under the mistaken assumption that it would automagically give them a better job. They can still return to the job they did in highschool and be a perfectly functioning member of society. They don't want to, because they think it's beneath them.
They don't want to, because they think it's beneath them.
For good reason. The opportunity cost of settling for a $20k/year job is very high, especially if the job is in a distant city from your hometown. Sure, you can save money on housing by moving a thousand miles to OKC, but you can't save money on plane tickets. So you aren't going to see your family very often -- better use Facetime.
(Incidentally, does AT&T have special OKC rates, or does my iPhone family plan cost $100/month in OKC just as it does everyplace else? For a $20k/year earner $100/month is 6% of pretax salary, so better not use Facetime after all.)
If an entry-level job on your desired career track opens up in your hometown of Atlanta, you might have a hard time landing that job when you live in Oklahoma City, make $20k per year, and have four years of "lifeguard" and "childcare provider" on your resume. It is notoriously difficult to get two days' time off from your food service job to travel to an interview, even if you can afford to do so.
But don't worry. Contrary to popular belief, people's hopes and dreams and lifestyles don't shatter instantly: The shattering happens in slow motion, over months or even years. Eventually, if the economy doesn't get jumpstarted, the new college grads will lose hope and realize that their best alternative is to work as a lifeguard or entry-level librarian, even if they have to move to OKC to do so. I hope OKC has a lot of libraries and swimming pools. Is there a library industry out there, making more libraries? Are they building more houses with pools, to go along with the surplus of houses we already have?
I think we must be coming from a very different background, because you and i have a very different definition of "poverty". I don't consider anyone who has an iphone to be impoverished.
I'm saying that anyone can come down here and get work if they really need it. Oh, but that would require them to work hard and make sacrifices? Tough shit; adults do what they have to do to pay rent.
Look, I am with you 100% if and when there are genuinely poor people who cannot put a roof over their heads. But as long as the sandwich shop next door is hiring to pay people a living wage, I'm not affected in the slightest by the boohoo tears of my peers who are in debt because they "needed" X, where X is anything other than food, clothing, a bed to sleep on, etc. If you are impoverished, the need to be close to your family is the last thing on your mind, because you haven't eaten in awhile. If you are impoverished, your resume isn't even on the radar, because you're not sure where you're going to sleep.
My version of the social safety net does not include:
* having your fill of face time with family
* hopes and dreams
* saving face in front of peers
* only working jobs that look good on resume
And no, i don't think anyone, including myself, is entitled to any of that just for breathing or for having a college degree. Especially if i didn't have a marketable skill.
We see this in the UK: legions of unemployed graduates, yet you can't get a plumber or an electrician born here anymore: they all come from Eastern Europe, and thank God that there are some countries where they still respect tradesman otherwise we'd be in a lot of trouble when our houses fell apart...
> So, if (or, perhaps, when) all the people with liberal arts degrees go back to Javaschool and emerge in a couple of years with M.S. degrees in CS, is your company going to hire them all?
This argument is not terribly relevant. It's like I tell you about this cheap, underrated restaurant and you reply with "but if everybody follows your recommendation, it will be too crowded and prices will rise and it won't be underrated anymore!". Which is true, but it's not the case that everybody will suddenly go there.
If more people did technical degrees (and CS is not the only one) instead of liberal arts degrees, gradually the salaries for technical jobs would go down a little and salaries for liberal arts jobs would go up a little.
That said, I agree that more and more people getting university degrees -- whether due artificial legal requirements or societal expectations -- is not necessarily a good thing. In Japan, going to a trade school for 2~3 years and then getting a job is a common alternative to going to college or junior college.
Of course there's no guarantee that getting a CS degree (or any other degree of the moment) will get you a job. But still, there's a huge difference between someone who at least made an effort to use college to become employable, and someone who majored in liberal arts.
For me, it really has nothing to do with shadenfreude, it has to do with expectations. I think someone who majored in chemical engineering should be surprised and disappointed to discover the jobs aren't there. I take no pleasure in watching a communications major struggle to get a good first job, but he had to know that going in.
This guy really seems surprised that going to school and doing well in Poly Sci didn't open the magic door to jobs. Really? Has he been living under a rock?
In the early 90's engineers were being laid off and graduating physicists couldn't find jobs. Many of us had to change careers. What is seen as useless in one time period can be valuable in another.
For example, when I started college in the 80's in many colleges CS was still a bullshit curriculum in some respects. They learned a little calc, a little science, but not really enough of either to develop the thought patterns (or even the vocabulary, really) of the fields. Kids who knew they needed to do something technical but didn't have the background or aptitude kind of failed into CS.
As CS (quickly) matured, so did its instruction, and before long it was the place where the smart kids went. Their ideas cross-pollinated with the rest of science and "suddenly," because it was cheaper to gain efficiency by making the software better than by making the hardware better, CS types were in demand.
I have a degree in East Asian Studies. I speak Japanese fairly well, which makes me employable, but nine out of ten people with this degree have no useful proficiency in any Asian language (heritage speakers excepted).
That's interesting. I speak JLPT 1 Japanese, and have never had it be useful in finding work. I do far better for myself not working in the Japanese business culture, and hacking away at a tech startup.
The jump between JLPT 2 to JLPT 1 was huge. I'm not sure if it's still that way, I heard it's been expanded to 5 levels now. I worked for 18 months in Japan, but if I'm going to work 12 hour days, I would rather be doing it at a startup with a little variety in the work (and stock options).
Definitely; that's why I didn't take the JLPT 1 last year. I still need to rely too much on a dictionary when reading the paper or novels. The kanji aren't much of a problem, but my vocabulary isn't yet big enough to read in detail.
I've done a few previous JLPT 1 exams, and the vocab is the only place I'm lacking; I can usually narrow down the reading comprehension questions to 'one of these two', but 50% isn't a passing score. :)
Other than 'keep studying', any tips for helping me over the hump?
"I speak Japanese fairly well, which makes me employable, but nine out of ten people with this degree have no useful proficiency in any Asian language (heritage speakers excepted)."
You have lived in Japan for at least a couple of years. You might get to know the history of Japan and some of the language in college, but living there is why you can speak it fluently (and know the customs).
I doubt language skills were the only thing you learned. There are plenty of companies that could benefit from employing someone with such a background, to prevent the many faux pas that can be dealbreakers when doing business with Asians.
Indeed, I also learned in exquisite detail how unlikely that comment is to be true. (If somebody asked me to do consulting vis a vis a Korean company I would tell them they are boned and charge two hundred bucks. It would be cheap at the price, too.)
Any phrase about all Asians which does not also apply to all Irish is horse puckey. There, I just saved you four years and 120k dollars.
Of course there are differences among Asian countries just like there are differences among African countries or any other region. However, an American with Japanese cultural understanding would be much better at consulting with a Korean company than an American with no other cultural understanding.
Am I wrong in thinking that someone that has a degree in East-Asian studies could advise you on how to deal with Koreans, how to (differently) deal with Vietnamese, etc.? Though having a grounding in East-Asian culture, he could expand his knowledge and understanding to the customs of other Asian countries, regions, peoples, etc. I was not trying to stroke Asia with a broad brush, just trying to succinctly describe what I would expect someone with such a degree to know.
First, try describing what course of study would prepare one for "How to deal with Americans." Does that sound a little funny to you? Because it should. What would it cover, business etiquette among self-employed American software entrepreneurs or the appropriate preservation of Eucharistic host? If you had the second class but not the first, how would you bootstrap from the second class to cover how to speak to a black female Texan at a business luncheon?
I can talk to you in quite a bit of depth about discrimination against Koreans in post-war Japan, the Toyota production system, and the civil service examination system in pre-modern China. You know the sum total of my book learning about Vietnam? A close reading of my textbooks suggests there may have been a war, possibly involving white people.
No, it doesn't. Large companies that deal a lot with foreign countries tend to employ people whose sole purpose it is to train new employees, who have to deal with those foreign countries, in cultural differences. For instance, a German company that exports to the rest of Europe would employ someone knowledgeable on French, Spanish, Italian, etc. business etiquette. Perhaps, for the US, they would distinguish between California-style, MidWest-style and NY-style; I don't know. I only know that there are people whose bread and butter is to teach others about these differences.
What kind of study prepares you for that? It's closest to cultural anthropology. I would expect it to come easy to sociologists and psychologists with interests in the matter.
Even between The Netherlands and Belgium, there are subtle differences that can be the difference between a deal and a failure. Learn those in a few one hour seminars and the mutual understanding and relationships get easier, or at least not unnecessarily complicated by misunderstandings that can be avoided. On the contrary, within a much larger country like France, even though there are differences and dislikes, especially between north and south, people tend to understand each other better. In Europe, these differences follow borders pretty well.
how to speak to a black female Texan at a business luncheon?
You can't be prepared for every individual's idiosynchrasies. You can be prepared for what most people that share a similar cultural background expect, even if they aren't aware of it.
I wouldn't trust anyone who wasn't fluent in the language, regardless of their degrees. If I wanted someone who knew how to deal with (say) Vietnamese, I'd hire a Vietnamese-American. They're not hard to find.
I've a friend with a philosophy degree, which has made her actively and openly contemptuous of practical, commercially relevant skills.
She's been stuck in dead-end jobs literally for a decade, which she, despite being intelligent enough to get said degree, finds completely unfair and incomprehensible. Her solution? Go back to college for a master's degree in philosophy...
For years—all my life, really—parents, teachers, and guidance counselors had told me that if I went to a good college and did well, I would be able to find a job after graduation that would, with a little ladder-climbing, keep me comfortable and financially secure.
The amount of Schadenfreude I'm experiencing right now is awesome.
It's the classic desire to believe that you have complete control over your life. By looking down on people who are having a rough time you can re-enforce the view that you are doing well because of decisions you made.
tkahn's profile mentions that programming since the age of 9. That sounds like some pretty intense natural affinity for a technical skill to me. It's pretty lucky to be blessed with a natural affinity for a skill that is rewarded well by the economy. Most people aren't.
(think about it, if enough people possess a natural affinity for any sort of skill, that skill won't be rewarded very well, because that skill will always be plentiful)
I'm not denying tkahn's hard work, or smart decisions. I'm sure there were both. But there's also a lot of luck involved in tkahn happening to have loved programming from a very early age. When I read the article in question, I see a lot of hard work and a smart decision, too. What I don't see is someone who naturally happens to be awesome at a very desirable skillset. That doesn't exactly seem to warrant mocking smug superiority.
That's something I find strange myself about the odd smug-superior vibe I get from some of the HN crowd (and silicon-valley types more generally), and I am a computer scientist with a good job. I didn't really pick computer science out of any sort of great foresight that CS would be in demand, or that this is the skillset I need to acquire to benefit society, or anything of that sort.
It's just what I was doing and good at since the days when I was 7 or 8 writing BASIC on my Apple //c. Other people at the same age, and up through high school (when I was still doing computer stuff in my spare time) happened to be really good at all sorts of other things, whether drawing or pottery or ancient history or learning foreign languages or carpentry, and at the time I certainly didn't see their skills as less important. Mine just turned out to be more commercially relevant, essentially through no skill or doing of my own. (If you had asked me as an 8-year-old to guess, I would've probably told you that carpentry and pottery were more practical skills than programming games on an Apple ][ was; I did the latter because it was fun.)
So I find the "screw other people, they should've picked a marketable skill" view weird, because I certainly didn't pick a marketable skill, and I think a lot of other techie types didn't either. I just got lucky that the thing I like turned out to be marketable. If it hadn't, I'd be struggling along doing something else I wasn't as good at, I guess, or trying to get one of the few meagre CS jobs. Or actually, it doesn't seem too unlikely that I'd be working as a waiter or coffee server or something as a day job to make ends meet, to support hacking in the evening. So the "struggling artist" types don't seem that foreign to me--- I just have the good fortune to have an art that pays.
I can only speak for myself, not others. But I know I've posted things here that if you read them too quickly might look like "Screw them, they should have gotten marketable skills." But that's not how I feel, and careful reading of at least what I have posted would reveal that I am angry at the number of people who told children to just follow their dreams and everything will be fine, and angry at the society that happily slapped them in debt to do it.
Yeah, I dodged that bullet (so far). But I'm surrounded by people who didn't.
And I've started raking people over the coals online who continue to propagate the "just follow your bliss" meme. I suggest everyone join me. This is one meme that needs to die.
(My counter-argument is that most people like more than one thing, there's more than one thing they can do for a living without wanting to die. Are none of them an actually useful skill? All the engineering fields, all the science fields, all the medical fields, all the trades, and you have to pick French Literature of the 1600s? Or in this story, political science? WTF do you do with a degree in political science and no pre-existing "connections"? And you know, look at that list I made, expand it out, you'll see that I'm not calling for everyone to be supergeniuses. Physicians assistant, decent plumber, a variety of technicians, we need them all and you don't have to be 130IQ to get there, just willing to work. (And not actively stupid, but honestly, that's not the problem most people have.))
I was more responding to the authors statement about how he thought that doing what you're told and getting good grades in school would lead to real-world success.
It's been my experience that getting good grades has very little to do with the quality or completeness of one's education.
I think that working hard is the path to success. And by 'working hard' I mean working with intellectual honesty -- doing work which makes you smarter and requires thought.
Adding fluff to an English paper to make it longer is intellectually dishonest. Copy+pasting selections from a Wikipedia page into a PowerPoint presentation and then spending an hour rearranging the words to make it look like you didn't copy verbatim is intellectually dishonest. These things are standard practice for 95% of all high school students and they are rewarded within the education system.
Yes I may get a good grade doing it the honest way, but it seems unfair to me that those being dishonest should get the same grade.
I'm not saying that intellectual dishonesty isn't possible in math or science, but it is certainly easier and in my experience, 'the norm', in the liberal arts.
I am happy to know that somewhere down the line this all comes back to bite you. This seems logical to me that striving to better oneself intellectually rather than striving to get good grades would make one a more desirable employee in the job market.
From what I can tell, her approach to education (and life, really) is diametrically opposed to mine. For her to think that having a high GPA within a political science major would translate into any real-world success is insane. I'm happy that the market is rewarding her decisions in a way that IMO is logical and consistent with my world view.
> For her to think that having a high GPA within a political science major would translate into any real-world success is insane
There was a time when that would translate to real-world success. You can't exactly blame a teenager for not understanding the nature of the education bubble in the United States. I would place blame on a system which continues to encourage these choices in our young without fully informing them of the likely consequences. Yes, some people who major in art history or political science will be wildly successful, but the vast majority of them won't. That reality is often not communicated to college students in the United States.
idk, as a teenager who figured this out a while ago, I'd it's pretty obvious that getting a liberal arts degree unless you really are passionate about liberal arts, is a pretty meaningless endeavor. I don't know exactly at what age you think she should be responsible for her own decisions, but regardless she's definitely paying for those decisions now.
insane? really? over the noise of "parents, teachers, guidance counselors", the existence of institutions charging significant tuition fees to award political science degrees, etc., - what kind of signals would a sane person have detected?