Thursday, January 31, 2008

Lawyer-Blogger of the Year Laments High Debt,Poor Prospects

From Wall Street Journal's "Law Blog": "his [or her] claim to fame? For over a year, Loyola 2L has beaten a loud and consistent drum of discontent around the Web by posting in online forums about the job prospects for graduates of nonelite law schools.

A comment from last summer was typical: “Two years ago I stupidly enrolled in Loyola Law School, thinking it would lead to a decent job,” he wrote. “Now I’m in massive debt and have been taught a hard lesson. … Students from tier 2 schools aren’t allowed to have good jobs, despite all the money and work we put into the education.”"

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Cut-Rate Ivy League

My latest column on Yahoo! Finance takes on the recent financial aid announcements by Harvard,Yale, and half a dozen top private universities.

I believe it's now time for families and communities to push for more accountability and transparency on the part of public institutions. Colleges need to show that they can be efficient in their use of resources and do more with less. Competition and smart consumer choices by students and families will ultimately be just as important to holding down college costs as contributions from the public and private sector combined.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


In Britain you can now earn nationally recognized school credits through the employee training program at McDonald's.

"Prime Minister Gordon Brown enthusiastically praised the program, along with related plans to expand the number of apprenticeships for young people. Addressing a conference of business leaders Monday, he spoke of historical importance for the British economy: "A generation ago, a British prime minister had to worry about the global arms race," he said. "Today a British prime minister has to worry about the global skills race."

He added: "The biggest barrier to Britain's success in the jobs of the future: a skills deficit particularly amongst the low paid."

This is true, but can you really overcome the skills deficit by rebranding the training programs for low-skilled jobs? What I know of jobs at McDonald's (see Fast Food Nation), they have been systematically de-skilled, so that you barely have to read or add to nuke the food and push the buttons at the register (which have pictures of the dishes on them).

Youth unemployment remains quite the scourge in Britain as indeed throughout Europe. Still, higher education in Britain is in an interesting state of transition. Up to the 1990s, even ,they had many fewer people enrolling in college than we do. Now they have more short, topical programs with much lower fees than we do in the US, with what is meant to be better paths to employment. You can also receive government support as a young person under 25, including months of paid job training and employment counseling.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Army Lowers Recruiting Standards Again

Fred Kaplan at Slate has been on top of this issue for a while. He writes:

"The latest statistics—compiled by the Defense Department. and obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the Boston-based National Priorities Project—are grim. They show that the percentage of new Army recruits with high-school diplomas has plunged from 94 percent in 2003 to 83.5 percent in 2005 to 70.7 percent in 2007. (The Pentagon's longstanding goal is 90 percent.)"

This is by way of 1) weakening our national defense and 2) making a back-door draft so that poor and minority kids in both urban and rural areas who go to crappy schools with lower graduation rates (the American high school graduation rate has been declining for 40 years, says a new paper) are more likely to fight and die in wars.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

New Research: Young People Don't Have Our Heads Up Our Asses

At least not any more than any young people at any time, ever.
As the Times reports, a new book is coming out repudiating Jean Twenge's odious Generation Me, which purported to show through research that young people these days scored higher on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory than previous generations (research that was never published in a peer-reviewed academic journal until after her popular book was published.)
The new researchers use the same data to show not much has changed.
The Times quotes an intelligent and nuanced observer of the younger generation, who I also quote in my book:

“It’s like a cottage industry of putting them down and complaining about them and whining about why they don’t grow up,” said Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a developmental psychologist, referring to young Americans. Mr. Arnett, the author of “Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road From the Late Teens through the Twenties” (2004, Oxford University Press), has written a critique of Ms. Twenge’s book, which is to be published in the American Journal of Psychology.
Scholars including Mr. Arnett suggest several reasons why the young may be perceived as having increased narcissistic traits. These include the personal biases of older adults, the lack of nuance in the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, changing social norms, the news media’s emphasis on celebrity, and the rise of social networking sites that encourage egocentricity.

I agree, except:
-Popular obsession with the doings of celebrities, as distinct from the portrayed attitudes of the celebs themselves, doesn't necessarily have to do with narcissism. It's just gossip, fodder for discussions about social norms, relationships, romance, and all the other juicy bits that hold a society together. It's also a source of powerful imagery that mainly makes young women feel bad about their bodies & themselves--not really amplifying narcissism.

-Social networking sites don't necessarily encourage egocentricity. This betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of social networking. Yes, you build your profile page, and you're concerned about your popularity, but you spend most of your time on other people's profile pages, sending messages, sharing photos, planning events. They call it social networking for a reason, not "me" networking.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Why Do We Go to Work?

My latest Yahoo! column pulls together some ideas I've been mulling over for a while about happiness and changing job expectations.

"What really intrigues me about the trend of youthful idealism is the way it contrasts with young people's actual experience of the changing work world. Workers younger than 30 are the largest and fastest-growing uninsured group in the country -- two out of five recent college graduates go without health coverage."

The Freelancers Union, which I highlight in the article and which I have been connected to in the past, is going through some growing pains. They transitioned to a new insurance carrier and members were frustrated as their phone systems were overloaded, leading them to send out a series of apologies.
On the other hand, I also hear their members are going to be featured on the PBS newsmagazine NOW. I'm betting they continue to grow into their role as advocates for the new independent workforce.

PS. I think it's kind of hilarious that certain Yahoo! commenters refer to me as MANya. These individuals also tend to be male, have poor spelling skills and right-wing political views--not that I'm in any way implying a connection.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Bad news for the economy, good news for GenDebt

Fascinating story by my college classmate Michael Barbaro in the NYTimes.
"The country may be experiencing a rare decline in personal consumption, not just a slower rate of growth. Such a decline would be the first since 1991, and it would almost certainly push the entire economy into a recession in the middle of an election year".

Of course a downturn in spending on stuff like video games and designer bags is bad news for our consumer-oriented economy. But it's good news for individuals, if it means they are being more realistic about tradeoffs and living within their means. Interestingly, the authors choose to quote a 22 year old to that effect, maybe because of their reputation for profligacy.

"Jinal Shah, 22, a college senior in New York, said she wanted to buy the popular Nintendo Wii video game system as a gift for herself this holiday season, but had second thoughts because of the $250 price tag. She ended up not purchasing it.

“You have to make choices,” she said. “I get the Wii, or I go out more. I am just much more aware of the tradeoff now.”

Rich-Kid Syndrome

Back when I was doing the Generation Debt column for the Village Voice, one of the toughest columns to report was the one on rich kids. Nobody really wants to talk about their money--there are still people who aren't speaking to me over it.
New York magazine, which can fairly be accused of fetishizing wealth, did an interesting take on the story last week, which is currently the top most emailed story.
The angle is pretty similar to my story, and that of the 2003 documentary Born Rich: how can young adults with stupid amounts of inherited wealth--or even the children of the merely affluent--acquire values and a sense of purpose?

Now, to many, a better question might be, who cares? These are rich-kid problems.

However, these existential dilemmas afflict a broader range of young people in our extremely affluent society--children of professionals, not just the super-wealthy, and I've heard the same complaints from children of immigrant success stories, ie, my father came from Fujian and worked 100 hours a week, how can I ever hope to match that?

Work is never just about the money, it's about carving out your place in society no matter where you come from.