Occupy the financial aid office

Who are the 99 percent of Occupy Wall Street, asks Ezra Klein in the Washington Post. Most are people with college loans they can’t afford and lousy jobs — or no jobs at all.

We Are The 99 Percent,” posts the stories.

“I am 20K in debt and am paying out of pocket for my current tuition while I start paying back loans with two part time jobs.”

. . . “I am a 28 year old female with debt that had to give up her apartment + pet because I have no money and I owe over $30,000.”

“College debt represents a special sort of betrayal,” writes Klein. “We told you that the way to get ahead in America was to get educated. You did it. And now you find yourself in the same place, but buried under debt. You were lied to.”

“i am a 19 year old student with 18 credit hours and 2 part time jobs. i am over 4000 dollars in debt but my paychecks are just enough to get me to school and back. next year my plan was to attend a 4 year college and get my bfa, but now i am afraid that without a co-signer i will have no shot at a loan and even if i can get a loan i am afraid that i will leave college with no future and a crippling debt.”

If bfa stands for bachelor of fine arts, this 19-year-old is wise to make a new plan.

. . . “I went to graduate school believing that there might be some financial security afforded by a higher degree, and that with that security I could finally buy my mom her own house and take care of her. Instead, I have wasted six years of my life.”

Graduate school in what field? At what point did you realize there were no jobs in that field?

Klein thinks the protesters don’t want a revolution. They want to restore “the fundamental bargain of our economy — work hard, play by the rules, get ahead.”

Hard workers usually get ahead of the slackers, but there is no rule about a college degree guaranteeing a good job. Beheading bankers won’t change that.

Times are hard. A few days ago, I ordered lunch at Burger King. Instead of a teen-ager at the counter, a white-haired woman in her 60s asked if I wanted the value meal.

About Joanne


  1. Chris Lehmann says:

    The question is… is that times are hard or is it that the fundamental promise – work hard, play by the rules, get ahead – is no longer true.

    The US has the largest gap between executive compensation and worker compensation in the world. More and more, companies are making money not by selling a better mousetrap but by figuring out how to pay workers less, use fewer workers, pay fewer benefits. The social safety net that was put in place the last time we were in this moment in time is fraying. That’s more than just hard times, that’s a dangerous place to be.

    • Americans got spoiled by the fact that much of Europe and Asia was destroyed by WWII and that put a major damper on international competition from 1945 to the early 1970’s. So you could have low-skilled workers making a cushy middle-class wage. Well, that world is long gone and it’s not coming back. Then in the 1990’s and 2000’s with the rise of the educated middle class in India and China, the white collar jobs started getting outsourced. The bankers and corporate fatcats are just a convenient scapegoat for the anger of Americans who are finding it hard to compete in a globalized economy.

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    Mich State just pulled in its largest frosh class ever. We have a friend whose daughter is one of four in a two-person dorm room.
    More and more kids are going to college. More and more are going to graduate school.
    Traditional grad school was TOUGH. It had the dual function of weeding out those who couldn’t hack it and giving them a heavy-duty education available only to those who were not maxed out by a four-year degree.
    Now, with marshmallow majors even in grad school, things are a bit easier outside the traditional fields. Masters grads in traditional fields did do quite well. Doesn’t mean a MA or MS in just any field is going to do it.
    We have some friends whose daughter is graduating in…ceramics, engaged to marry a colleague who’s about to graduate in…ceramics. The only way to avoid encountering reality is to go to grad school. Wish them luck. Great kids….

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    I don’t know about your mousetraps, but my 2008 Ford has a bazillion advantages over, say, the Ford I owned twenty years ago, ranging from crash protection to emission control to mileage to not having to get a tune up every six thousand miles.
    Got a laptop this spring which will do things the unversity mainframe–I think they had a mainframe–couldn’t do when I was in forty-five years ago. You old enough to remember guys with pocket protectors walking across campus with shoe boxes of punch cards?
    Got some new doors this week. Better fit and finish and r factor than the ones we’re replacing. Don’t need storm doors.
    Even my new splitting maul is better than the old one.
    Our new windows make the house so tight that we can’t have a fire in the fireplace without an outside air intake. No draft.
    Still, you’re right. Corporations aren’t paying people to do stuff that doesn’t need to be done by people.
    Or by union folks in this country when some campesino looking for an opportunity will do it in Honduras.
    Result is lower prices for various necessities, adjusted for inflation, anyway.

  4. Stacy in NJ says:

    I watched an interview today on CNBC with an executive with Siemens Corporation. They currently have 3000 unfilled job openings in manufacturing here in the U.S. because they cannot find qualified candidates. While they are looking for folks with degrees (primarily in STEMS), they’re also looking for high school graduates that are trainable. Trainable meaning high school graduates that understand basic math, English, and science.

    We have a laboimbalancece. We need folks with STEMS backgrounds or high school graduates with strong basic skills. We have too many folks with degrees in communications, education, physchology………Who don’t want to work iunglamorousus yet reasonably well paid jobs in high-tech manufacturing. Too bad for them.

  5. Stacy in NJ says:

    Yikes, that should be – labor imbalance, psychology, and unglamorous

    Must proof read, must proof read…..

  6. Soapbox0916 says:

    @ Stacy,

    I have to call BS on what Siemens is claiming or BS on how it was filtered by CNBC. There are far too many recent STEM graduates that cannot get jobs. Way too many of them. I am really getting sick of tired of reading that there is some gravy train that exists for STEM jobs, it is a myth.

    There are several factors that make STEM jobs different. For starters, STEM jobs are not interchangeable with each other, it is not like a business management degree that in theory any business manager is qualified to manage almost any business. STEM jobs are super specialized. Forest keeper and Ceramic Manufacturing engineer are very different jobs. Even within bio-tech jobs, it is very specialized, with employers expecting specific experience with very different methods and machinery. STEM jobs also come with long list of requirements that employers expect beyond a degree, the shortage is not in the actual number of STEM degrees.

    A key concept to me here is that not enough people are not meeting their qualifications. If Siemens is really hurting for “qualified” people for jobs, then it is their own fault for being too picky. They need to back-up and make arrangements with colleges and trade schools so that graduates have exactly what they looking for, or find smart people and train themselves. Companies used to do more on the job training. I am seeing too many smart STEM graduates that don’t have exactly quite what employers are looking for, being passed over.

    If Siemans is struggling, it is for other reasons, and it is not due to there being a shortage of STEM graduates overall.

  7. The Wall St protests are another example of misplaced anger. The twenty-somethings are upset about their debt. Who allowed and encouraged them to go into debt? The government. Who allows and encourages Wall St to abuse the system? The government.

    Who will have to pay for all the eventual defaulted education loans? Taxpayers.

    So why exactly does Congress have such a ridiculous incumbency rate? Oh, wait, those same twenty-somethings and every other voter.

  8. Stacy in NJ says:

    Actually, soapbox, Siemens does currently have a training program and is in the process of ramping it up. Their complaint isn’t so much about the lack of STEM’s graduates, although that is one complaint, it’s about the lack of basic skill that high school graduates possess. They want trainable high school graduates for skilled manufacturing jobs, not college graduates. They don’t need a college graduate with 60K in debt, a degree in communications, and no working knowlege of basic algebra. They want young people with strong basic math and technical skills to train. They cannot find them.

    • Upstate NY has had a lot of STEM companies (Global Foundries the largest) recently establish operations. At a STEM education conference a few years ago, reps from the various companies {tech, communication, biotech, etc.) were all pleading for high school grads that had a solid grasp of math skills, could read and write technically, and had a strong work ethic. A few that I know of are paying for associate’s degrees for prospective candidates.

  9. Ted Craig says:

    Maybe Occupy Wall Street would end with a staging of La Boheme. Artists have always starved. The only ones who didn’t had rich patrons, usually bankers.
    Maybe the problem is nobody was specific with these kids – you need a functional degree.

  10. I don’t understand why high schools don’t do a better job of educating students about supply and demand of the market place as it relates to jobs. If high school students understood what industries are growing, they would be better prepared to pick a college major that would lead to a job after graduation. That is a better approach than picking a major students are interested in and hoping for a job after they earn a degree.

  11. Chris Lehman has it right: “the fundamental promise – work hard, play by the rules, get ahead – is no longer true.”

    It’s not that there are no jobs in “that field” – there are no jobs worth having in any field. And even if you get a job, you spend your life going into debt rather than saving for later. And even if you save for later, the money is clawed back through pension reforms and stock market swindles.

    • Stephen,
      As a young parent of two in a two-income house, I can definitely say it’s more than possible to manage debt if you’re conservative with your spending. Were on track to to be debt free by our fifties… no mortgage, undergrad and graduate student loans, etc.

      I also can’t think of any of my younger sisters’ friends, who either recently graduated or are close, that are concerned about jobs. Of course, they’re mostly STEM majors.