Hacker Newsnew | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login

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.

http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2004/01/understandi...

Fun fact: in 1960, a coffee maker cost $29.95 and the average household income was just under $5000. In 2010, the coffee maker costs $12.95 and the average salary is about $50,000.

http://www.dadsvintageads.com/viewitem.php/dadsvintageads/pd...

-----


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.

What additional insight do your numbers provide?

-----


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.

-----


Yes, that metric is also good, although not as visceral as the one I used. It's also timeless whereas someone reading my comment 20, 50, whatever years from now wouldn't be helped as much.

-----


The big expenses - the stuff that you actually need and where most of most people's money goes - are housing, health care, and food. I doubt that's gotten cheaper. Probably the other way around.

Nobody really needs a coffee maker, but last time I checked a crappy house in many areas is still several times the average annual income.

-----


Food has gotten dramatically cheaper [1]. 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).

[1] http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/CPIFoodAndExpenditures/Data...

-----


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."

On average, people do not put in more hours.

http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2000/07/art3full.pdf

I don't have any data to back this up at the moment

Google is your friend.

-----


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.

I don't think you got Elizabeth Warren quite right. From http://motherjones.com/politics/2004/11/two-income-trap

"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.)

-----


Your presentation is kind of one-sided. Warren concluded that modern families are worse off for a reason, as outlined in the Mother Jones article.

-----


I cited Warren's data, which backs up my point: that everything besides tax has gotten cheaper between 1970 and 2000. She has an opinion which I didn't cite. So what?

-----


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.

-----


"in 1960, a coffee maker cost $29.95"

Oh sheesh, do you think that that's what had to buy to make coffee rather than a percolator or a french press?

This can work both ways.

Fun fact: In 1960 a percolator cost $2.95, but in 2010 an espresso machine costs as much as $10,000.

-----


> 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?

-----




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: