A question of (academic) degrees

Published on rabble.ca /blog, by PENNEY KOME, 12 Jun 2014.

… Only a decade ago, a person who graduated with a five-year Masters of Business Administration degree could expect immediate six-figure salary offers. Now the Degree Bubble has burst. Between dumbed-down public education systems, an overabundance of graduates, and endless corporate and small business campaigns to drive down wages across the board, the value of degrees has suffered drastic deflation in the seven years between 2007, when our grad entered university, and his graduation this year.  

Yet sociologists, economists and think tanks still use education, especially post-secondary education, as a significant indicator of social well-being. “Educational attainment reflects what skills are available to society and the labour market,” according to Employment and Social Development Canada. ESDC found that, in 2012, more than half (53.6 per cent) of adult Canadians had completed some kind of post-secondary education — up nearly 21 percentage points in 20 years, from about a third of adults in 1990.

Education is the key to opportunity in a democracy, and opportunity is the key to social mobility. Even a poor child can aspire to rise in social class, by doing well in school. But until very recently, many kids from all classes only aspired to completing high school.

ESDC found that, among Canadians older than 65, nearly four in 10 (37 per cent) did not have high school diplomas. I’ll say that again. Almost 40 per cent of Canadians born in 1950 or earlier never finished high school.

So you can imagine that in 1946, after World War II, earning a BA was a very big deal. Through “the Canadian GI Bill,” suddenly thousands of returning soldiers did earn BAs, changing their lives from farming or seafaring to glamourous urban jobs earning much more money. In the 1950s and 60s, a person with a university degree had a genuine job ticket, a pass to the middle class.

This is the background for statements such as the US government statistic that a worker with a BA earns nearly a million dollars more over a lifetime, than a worker with a high school diploma. For average lifetime US workforce earnings, a high school graduate earns $1.2 million; a BA grosses $2.1 million, and over a lifetime, on average, a master’s degree holder earns $2.5 million.

Figures like these have spurred university enrollment. By 2012, nearly 70 per cent (69.2 per cent) of young Canadian adults (22 to 44), and six in 10 (59.2 per cent) of middle-aged (45 to 64) Canadians had earned a degree or occupational diploma or certificate.
Some degrees have more value than others. A B.Comm might get a job interview in a corporate setting. A B.Sc might get an internship in a business incubator. As for a Bachelor of Arts — you want fries with that?

“The college degree is becoming the new high school diploma: the new minimum requirement, albeit an expensive one, for getting even the lowest-level job…” began a story that Catherine Rampell wrote for the New York Times a year ago.

To 2014 grads, the idea that a BA could be a job ticket seems beyond belief: “… the higher supply has led to some unfortunate employment prospects. These days, it’s not uncommon to see college grads working in shopping malls and coffee shops,” says a post on a blog run by and for youth interns.

Of course, with manufacturing and a lot of office work outsourced overseas, retail is where the big spenders are. No, really, “personal consumption expenses” drive 70 per cent of the US economy — of which more than half involves retail sales.

Instead of gaining security, new grads find themselves joining what’s known as the “precariat” — precarious workers who piece together their living from temporary, part-time, contract or self-employment – never earning enough to be able to pay down debt and still have a life. Although they can’t even land a job interview without a BA, almost half (48 percent) of employed college grads are in jobs that don’t really require a college education.

And the problem is global. “Forty per cent of recent graduates in U.S. are underemployed,” said Canadian Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney, “and youth unemployment is around 50 per cent in the worst affected countries in the euro area.” Carney told the New York Times that capitalism is “eating its children.”

(full text).

(Award-winning author and journalist Penney Kome has published six non-fiction books and hundreds of periodical articles, as well as writing a national column for 12 years and a local (Calgary) column for four years. She was Editor of Straightgoods.com from 2004 – 2013).

Links about the emmerging Precariat:

The Precariat, Special Issue, by Matthew Johnson (editor), June 16, 2014;

A step forward for $15 in Seattle, on Socialist Worker.org, by Tyler Barton, June 12, 2014;

Design for Democracy: Hope begins at the ballot box, on rabble.ca, by ELIZABETH LITTLEJOHN, June 10, 2014;

Celine Cooper: Young Quebecers’ changing attitudes, on The Gazette, by Celine Cooper, June 9, 2014;

What TV shows have you lied about watching just to save face? on The Guardian, by Stuart Heritage, June 6, 2014: We have a tendency to fib about what we’ve watched, just to fit in, according to a new survey. Did you ever say you’d seen something when you hadn’t. The Wire? Homeland? Downton Abbey? Tell us your guilty secrets;

Middle classes will disappear in next 30 years warns Government adviser, on Telegraph,co.uk, by Sarah Knapton, May 28, 2014: Property price rises will cause the middle classes to disappear within 30 years, leaving only a “wealthy elite and sprawling proletariat”, government adviser says …;

The American Precariat, an opinion by Op-Ed columnist David Brooks, on The NYT, Feb 10, 2014;

Stay Put, Young Man, on Washington Monthly, by Timothy Noah, Nov/Dez 2013: Americans used to be exceptional for how often they moved. But that once-powerful source of both efficiency and upward mobility is now in steep decline …;

The End of American Exceptionalism, on National Journal, by Peter Beinart, Feb 3, 2014;

Book – The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, by Guy Standing, on amazon;
Guy Standing’s book–review – A Precariat Charter: From Denizens to Citizens, on The Guardian, by John Harris, April 9, 2014: Too many jobs are now temporary and insecure: a new class, the ‘precariat’ is growing. Guy Standing has responded with an inspiring vision of a Good Society …;

Why the precariat requires a basic income – Prof. Guy Standing, 37.05 min, uploaded on YouTube by BKTVkanal, Nov 3, 2012;

The Making and Unmaking of the Precariat – Loïc Wacquant, 8.40 min, uploaded on YouTube by Nicolas Holzheu, July 4, 2012;

The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, 52.56 min, uploaded on YouTube by MHC McCulloch Center, Feb 18, 2012;

Precariat on en.wikipedia: In sociology and economics, the precariat is a social class formed by people suffering from precarity, which is a condition of existence without predictability or security, affecting material or psychological welfare as well as being a member of a Proletariat class of industrial workers who lack their own means of production and hence sell their labour to live. Specifically, it is applied to the condition of lack of job security, in other words intermittent employment or underemployment and the resultant precarious existence …;

Other Links:

on Russia Today RT:

New NSA Revelations: Inside Snowden’s Germany Filepart 1, on Spiegel Online International, by Spiegel Staff, June 18, 2014 (Photo Gallery): An analysis of secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden demonstrates that the NSA is more active in Germany than anywhere else in Europe — and that data collected here may have helped kill suspected terrorists …;
part 2: Targets in Africa, Targets in Europe;
part 3: Collection Sites in Germany;
UK urged to give Germany access to RAF base that helped spy on Merkel, on Russia Today RT, June 19, 2014.

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