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NB's The Nyle Magazine

Monday, October 08, 2012



Published December 28, 2011

“The Recyclable Role”

By Nathan’ette Burdine-Follow on Twitter@nbnylemagazine

Education has been one of the most common means for a person to increase his social, political, and economical standing.  It often pays off during booming economic times, as was evident during the booming housing market from 2003-2007.  An advance degree allowed individuals to make the salary, which enabled them to live above the American dream.  There was a sense of invincibility and no end to the good road.  This was evident in the big purchases from SUVs to homes as large as 10,000 sqft in country club neighborhoods.  But when the housing market crashed and the recession began, many of these individuals found that the economy was too weak to blanket them from the ever-present recyclable role.  The recyclable role is one in which a person’s labor is not determined by his education.  He can easily be recycled back into what is considered man’s basic role, a common worker.  A common worker is a person who can perform basic jobs such as waiter, janitor, domestic worker, etc.  And with the unemployment rate hanging around 9% and only 80,000 jobs being added last quarter, some college graduates are reverting to their basic role in order to survive.

The 2008 recession has given a considerable amount of truth to the common joke that the only job a college graduate will be able to get is one making $7.50/hr working at a fast food restaurant or Walmart.  It is a joke highlighting how the times of a college degree being the golden ticket to a better life are quickly slipping away.  The weak economy and considerable amount of college graduates in the workforce is causing an overeducated underemployed problem in which college graduates are filling jobs that were once held by high school graduates.  HuffPost writers Amy Langdon and Nicholas Padiak wrote an article, “A Generation Lost in Space:  Overeducated and Underemployed in America,” discussing the difficulties they were having finding a job after graduation.  And one of the things Padiak pointed out is how common it was for restaurant workers to have at least a baccalaureate degree.  He stated that a common question amongst the wait staff was, “Where did they go to college and what did they study.”  The question points to how reality is often blurred by a fictitious conditional belief based upon a false absolute.  In this case, the fictitious conditional belief is that a college degree brings about nothing but good, while the false absolute is that a college degree is all a person needs in order to escape the recyclable role.  Yet, this is not always the case.

The New York Times published the article “What is a Master’s Degree Worth?” and within it was a “Room for Debate” forum in which educators and economist discussed the importance of an education in a down economy.  According to Stephen Joel Trachtenberg’s article, “The Value of an MA,” the BA degree is losing its importance to the MA.  Hence, the baccalaureate’s degree value is being reduced to that of a high school diploma, while the master’s degree value is being reduced to that of a baccalaureate.  And with this trend, the direct relationship between increase education and a better life is being refuted by some who say that higher education institutions are more focused on profiting from the students’ presence than educating the students.  In the article “The Education Bubble,”  Mark Taylor said, “One of the dirty secrets of many research universities is that they treat master’s students as cash cows that fund other activities.  To make matters worse, with many faculty members uninterested in teaching, students cannot assume they will get what they are paying for.”  This reality is giving more strength to the growing belief that college is becoming the biggest hustle,  with a sale pitch based upon the traditional view of college being the best means to a better life.  It is also resulting in some questioning if they should risk more financial debt by pursuing an advance degree.  An argument MSN’s “Smart Money” writer Jack Hough makes in his article, “Is a college degree worthless?,”  is that although college graduates make more money than non-college graduates, college graduates do not save more money than non-college graduates.  And during hard economic times, a college degree may do more harm than good because of the debt a college graduate accumulates during and after college. 

          During a down economy, the time between a recession and recovery is sometimes extended.  It is a time in which taxes are increased, banks are charging more to borrow and limiting the amount of money they loan, the cost of living tends to increase, and employers are scaling back on hiring.  So a person who is thinking about pursuing a degree will have to give more thought to the amount of money he has vs. the debt he will have after pursuing a degree, because an advance degree is not a guarantee that a person will be insulated from a downed economy.  For instance, Law is considered an economically secure profession.  According to Liz Pulliam Weston, Personal Finance Columnist for MSN Money, Law and Medicine are the two professional degrees that are worth the investment.  Although medicine is a field in which doctors seem to be recession proof, lawyers are having a difficult time in this down economy.  The situation has become so dire that the Las Vegas Review-Journal writer Valerie Miller wrote in her article, “Job Chances are Few for Law Grads, Out-of-Work Lawyers,” that Paul Hejmanowski, who is a managing partner in Lionel Sawyer and Collins law firm, stated that the grim economy has lead to the new generation of lawyers being commonly referred to as the “lost generation.”  According to Hejmanowski, before 2008 or 2009 his small law firm never would’ve seen lawyers who graduated from Harvard or worked at major law firms in New York or Chicago because they had the safety net of an Ivy League degree, which widen the door to various job markets.  However, Lawyers who’ve graduated from Ivy League universities or work at top law firms are learning that their education and a top law firm’s wealth is not strong enough to parachute them to a life beyond the recyclable role.  And when the recession occurred, the wide door was narrowed and these lawyers had to look for other opportunities. 

Some say that bad is measured not by those at the bottom, but how bad those at the top are doing.  It is considered normal for a high school dropout or a high school graduate to have hard economic times, but it is not considered normal for a college-educated person to have hard economic times.  A college degree is considered the perfect insulator from an economic storm.  However, the recyclable role is one all people share.  It is a dreadful role that reduces a person to his basic function, a common worker.  So in an effort to escape the reality of who he is at his core, man tries to use education as a means to increase his social, political, and economical standing.  During the good times, he often self indulges without thinking about the downturn that will occur.  Therefore, he is ill prepared to handle the economic storm coming along, peeling back the protective coat, and revealing the basic role all people share.







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