Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Burning up the Future

My friend Billy Parish of Energy Action is in Montreal making sure that the voice of the future (ie, youth) is heard at the current UN climate change summit. They're blogging the conference anad they issued a Youth Declaration calling for minimum binding emissions reductions of 30% by 2020 and "a just transition to low-impact renewable energy."

From where I sit right now, in a post-K New Orleans, the growing danger of global warming does not look theoretical. This is a whole other angle of Generation Debt. Here you have a group of wealthy, mostly over-50 leaders and business execs who are furthering the status quo for their own gain, to the untold detriment of those of us who have our whole lives ahead of us.

Or as Bush likes to say: "And he said, ‘History,’ and then he took his hands out of his pocket and kind of shrugged and extended his hands as if this is a way off. And then he said, ‘History, we don’t know. We’ll all be dead.’”

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Our For-Profit Future

A small private college goes for-profit and, one year later, eliminates all liberal-arts programs.

Jon Jay De Temple, president of Post for the last five years, said that he believes the institution needs focus. “We’re not big enough to do everything for everybody,” he said.

De Temple said that based on that view, administrators and board members believe that majors that don’t “lead to a job” should be eliminated. He stressed that there would still be history and English instruction at the university, but said that there would not be any upper-level courses. “We’re probably not the best institution to turn out an English major,” he said.

The college hopes to shift resources to expand offerings in high-growth fields such as criminal justice, health services, and sports and entertainment. Post also wants to improve its well regarded equestrian program.

Ooh, equestrians! Maybe this will be the training ground of the next Michael Brown.

Living Together

My newest Generation Debt column is about the economic advantages and drawbacks of cohabitation.

Monday, November 28, 2005

SUNY anti-Tuition Action

Press Release from NYPIRG today:


Dozens of college students from across the state will travel to
Albany tomorrow, Tuesday, November 29, to deliver thousands of postcards to Governor Pataki urging him not to raise tuition and to increase funding for higher education when he proposes his Executive Budget in January.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Don't Forget About Consolidation

In all of the talk about student loan program cuts, says this Albany Times-Union editorial, don't forget that the ability to consolidate loans --refinance at a lower interest rate--is also at stake:

But when it comes to a double whammy, students and former students who are paying off their loans are in a special class. The House is said to favor making permanent a provision in current law that prohibits borrowers from renegotiating interest rates more than once in the lifetime of a loan. That contrasts with the flurry of refinancing whenever mortgage interest rates decline.

Back when Sallie Mae, a major education finance company, was a quasi-public agency, this provision made sense. But Sallie Mae is now in the private marketplace and, by some estimates, is enjoying profits of some $1 billion a year. At the same time, the government shields lenders from bad student loans by denying borrowers the right to write them off by declaring bankruptcy.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Starbucks Union Marches On

Last May, I wrote for New York magazine about the efforts of young Manhattan Starbucks workers to unionize as members of the Industrial Workers of the World, the Wobblies, the most storied union in American history.
Well, they've now organized the workers at a third Starbucks on Union Square. Their demands include a guaranteed 30-hour workweek; they point out that it's tough to make rent when you can be cut down from 30 to 10 hours on a week-by-week basis.
Millions of young people are working low-wage jobs like these for years as they struggle to get through college, or instead of college, or after college. It seems to me that everyone would benefit if these workers had more solidarity and if the jobs were of a higher caliber when it came to wages, benefits, and stability.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Hunting the Hunters

This website, Student Loan Justice, sheds light on the cruel practices and obscene profits of student loan collectors.

According to Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren in a Wall Street Journal piece by John Hechinger last year, "Student-loan debt collectors have power that would make a mobster envious."

A refreshingly militant air to their language as well.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Not My War

Today is the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition National Not Your Soldier Day of Action.
(A cool Google Map of the actions across the country at colleges, high schools and even junior highs.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Why Your Punk Waitress is Angry

Andrew Leonard's long, navel-gazy, but ultimately fascinating essay in Salon about Richard Lloyd's book about "Neo-Bohemia" as personified in the apparently happenin' neighborhood of Wicker Park in Chicago contains this great snippet:

Wicker Park's economy, which depends largely on its hip, young residents either working long hours as bartenders or waitstaff, or long hours in various digital design occupations. This is fascinating, original and deeply humane sociology at its finest; he demonstrates that in the name of freedom, young people working in allegedly relaxed service-sector jobs waste years of their lives in a whirl of drugs, alcohol and deceptively low wages. It's a classic example of a circular economy: While a bartender at an upscale Wicker Park club may earn $250 or more in tips from a shift, he or she is likely to go right out to an after-hours club with friends and spend it all on lavish tips to another bartender on the circuit. To anyone who's ever worked in the nightlife business, all this will ring sad but true.

The book sounds very meta: a theoretical dissection of the nostalgia and "performance of cultural distinction" of hipsterism is exactly the type of book best discussed loudly in a cafe over microbrews and free trade coffee.

For-Profit Colleges

My first piece for Slate magazine went up today. It's about what I consider to be the worrisome growth of for-profit colleges--a corrupt, variable-quality, expensive choice targeted at low-income and minority students with little experience in higher education.

I worked really hard on the piece. My first draft(s) had too much information in it and not enough of an argument, which I struggled to refine; it's not perfectly there yet, I feel like I could write a whole series on the subject. For example, I didn't really go into the way that class issues come to bear on the quality of education offered to people. I have been reading Slate for a long time but I haven't mastered the way their writers give a neat fillip to an argument. It seems you need a provocative thesis or partisan slant or at least amusing writing--preferably all three--to maneuver boring information over the threshold of an increasingly sated and jaded audience. Who knew?

Who's the Dope Fiend--You or Dad?

It's already a Most-Emailed story in the New York Times:
For a sizable group of people in their 20's and 30's, deciding on their own what drugs to take - in particular, stimulants, antidepressants and other psychiatric medications - is becoming the norm.

Provocative! Those irresponsible kids!

Except, the generational frame of this story has no basis in fact, and is probably wrong. Witness this LA Times story from last month (based on actual statistics):

Californians age 40 and older are dying of drug overdoses at double the rate recorded in 1990, a little-noticed trend that upends the notion of hard-core drug use as primarily a young person's peril.
Indeed, overdoses among baby boomers are driving an overall increase in drug deaths so dramatic that soon they may surpass automobile accidents as the state's leading cause of nonnatural deaths.
In 2003, the latest year for which the state has figures, a record 3,691 drug users died, up 73% since 1990. The total surpassed deaths from firearms, homicides and AIDS.
Remarkably, the rate of deadly overdoses among younger users over that period has slightly declined, while the rate among those 40 and older has jumped from 8.6 to 17.3 per hundred thousand people. Since older people are more likely to have health coverage, use more presecriptions, and have more money to spend, AND are more likely to abuse drugs, doesn't it follow that this pill-trading behavior is at least cross-generational?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Monday, November 14, 2005

Give it to the Needy and not the Greedy

This week's GenDebt column is about the National Tuition Endowment, a plan by and for students to take money from student lenders and give it out in scholarships. As you can guess I think this is a terrible idea. Just kidding.

Student Debt Alert

A new project from the state PIRGs, Student Debt Alert features the personal stories of 500 kids at 10 schools. Similar to what the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations has been doing for a couple of years, except their Wall of Debt is physical, is built in the capital, and has 4,000 people on it.

Friday, November 11, 2005

A Bit of Good News

The Raid on Student Aid was postponed yesterday after Republican lawmakers admitted they didn't have the votes to pass the $51 billion in cuts to social programs, which includes $14.3 billion in cuts to student loan programs.

Seattle P-I : Wayne Gilchrest, R-Md., said the budget bill "is still a work in progress" and he still opposes some of its provisions. But he acknowledged that resistance to ANWR drilling unified the GOP moderates in challenging the leadership. "One thread that held us together on this was ANWR. We knew if we could hold together on ANWR all these other provisions would be subject to much closer scrutiny,"

Inside Higher Ed: Several lawmakers noted that they’d heard from students or college officials concerned about the cuts. Way to go, guys!

And now, the bad news: There's one more week in the session, meaning the Higher Ed Act has little or no chance of being reauthorized this year (The last "five-year" reauthorization was in 1998.) Pell grants will continue to be underfunded.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

France Eats its Young? What about US?

Thought-provoking piece on the economic roots of the French riots--specifically, the lack of job opportunities for young people, especially minorities. "Among the young, immigrant men who live in satellite slums, unemployment reaches 40 percent."

I disagree with Elisabeth Eaves' diagnosis, though. She says the problem is that the minimum wage is too high--about $10/hr--and there are too many social protections; those already ensconced within the system keep voting for benefits for themselves, even if it strangles productivity. I'm no economist, but we don't have either of those "problems" here in America, and we're not exactly bursting with opportunities for youth either: Half the Black men in New York City aged 16+ are unemployed. Actually worse than these boys who are out burning cars.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Quit Lit

My acquaintance Izzy Grinspan delves into this subgenre of chick lit ,aka "job horror," which exposes the crappy working conditions so many 20somethings have to deal with, albeit as the background of glamour-obsessed frothy romance. Not exactly Sister Carrie, but a bit of social realism nonetheless.

NYU Grad Students Strike

Here's an amateur photo album of the NYU grad students ON STRIKE TODAY. They had the only grad student union at a private college until their contract expired August 31. In my interpretation, a 2004 decision against students at Brown emboldened the university to ask for a lot of concessions in the new contract, prompting this strike.

Is a union the best solution for graduate student teachers and adjuncts? I confess I'm torn on the issue. I think they deserve better pay and working conditions, but what everyone really wants is to go back to the apprenticeship system with tenure jobs for everybody at the other end, and that's just not going to happen.

A More Diverse, Less Educated, Poorer Future

This new report, "As America Becomes More Diverse: The Impact of State Higher Education Inequality," proves a simple syllogism. 1) By 2020 there will be twice as many minority workers (Hispanic and black), or 37 % of the workforce. 2) Blacks and Hispanics are far less educated than whites. 3) Either we close the racial disparities OR we get ready for a less educated, less competitive workforce with lower earnings.

Summarizes the Chronicle:
if the current educational gap continues, the proportion of the work force with a college education, or even a high-school diploma, would decrease, the report says. The proportion of the work force with less than a high-school diploma would rise to 18.5 percent from 16.1 percent in 2000, and the proportion with a bachelor's degree would fall to 16.4 percent from 17.1 percent....
The drop in the share of the work force with college degrees would also lead to a 2-percent fall in personal per-capita income, from $21,591 in 2000 to $21,196 in 2020, in constant dollars. During the previous 20-year period, that figure grew by 41 percent.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Women "To Come"

Ratio of male to female writers at "general interest" magazines: 324 to 99 (i.e. 3:1). Ruth Davis Konigsberg, a deputy editor at Glamour, is taking names, at The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, and Vanity Fair.
These are the five biggies, the ones that can make or break you as a serious freelance writer, and they pay seriously as well. Personally I have pitched and been shot down at 3 of them, with various degrees of respectfulness.
What does worry me is the lack of an old girl's network. When I look at my personal network of journalistic colleagues and contacts, my own ratio of men to women is about 5 to 1. Many of the women are editors; many have been extremely helpful, even sisterly. Yet of the journalists I personally know around my age who are trying to get taken a little seriously and build a multifaceted career (as opposed to writing sex, fashion, celeb profiles), nearly all of them are men. This dates back to college when my close journalism pals were all boys.
Maybe I need to do a little Maureen Dowd-style friend-making.

Lake Woebegone Kids

Another great media-crit piece from Jack Shafer about stupid, groundless press characterizations of generations. On this USA Today story on Gen Y in the workplace:

"They're young, smart, brash. They may wear flip-flops to the office or listen to iPods at their desk. They want to work, but they don't want work to be their life."

A quick scan of buzzwords will tell you all you need to know, really: "multitasking," "tech savvy," "child centered," "high maintenance"...

Shafer adds:
The piece rolls out one generational cliché after another. Scream if you've ever heard one of these gems applied to a previous generation:

[T]his generation—whose members have not yet hit 30—is different from any that have come before. …

This age group is moving into the labor force during a time of major demographic change. …

Unlike the generations that have gone before them, Gen Y has been pampered, nurtured and programmed with a slew of activities since they were toddlers, meaning they are both high-performance and high-maintenance. …

Uncle Sam persecutes old, sick student loan borrower

An online piece for my Gen Debt column:

James Lockhart is a 67-year-old man with diabetes and heart disease currently living in public housing in Seattle. According to the brief before the Supreme Court, between 1984 and 1990 he borrowed $80,000 in federal student loans to attend various college programs. He never graduated nor found employment except for a few months in 1987. In April 2002, the Department of the Treasury officially informed him that his Social Security disability payments, then $874 a month plus $10 in food stamps, would be cut—“offset”--by 15 percent to pay his old student loans. Lockhart found legal help from the nonprofit group Public Citizen, founded by Ralph Nader.
If these trends persist, and if Lockhart loses his case, the Bush administration won’t have to bother with its plans for reforming Social Security. Benefits will be slashed anyway in 20 years to pay off everyone’s old student debt.

UPDATE: According to the Seattle P-I, "Skeptical Supreme Court justices on Wednesday sharply questioned a Seattle man's claim that the government was wrong to tap his Social Security benefits to pay off long overdue students loans.

The justices appeared unmoved by arguments that James Lockhart, who is disabled, needed all of his $874 monthly check to pay for food and medication."

Monday, November 07, 2005

Workplace? Fairness?

Great, comprehensive site about employee rights and fairness issues, run by a nonprofit of employment lawyers. They'll also help you decide if you have a case to sue your boss.

The evidence that the vast majority of Americans are giving more and getting less from their jobs isn't just clear, it's overwhelming.

The Private Loan Problem

Another great story from Business Week, this one on the growth and danger of private loans. What's up with these guys? Do they take seriously the concept of young people as human capital or something?

For cash-strapped undergrads like Jesse, though, often the biggest problem is securing a loan in the first place. Many haven't yet established good credit, and the majority of private loans require a credit check. And even if "credit-risk" students manage to procure a private loan at a high interest rate, a low-paying first job could mean that monthly student loan repayments gobble up 50% of their salary.

Nevertheless, private loans have proven a valid option for students facing the increasing financial demands of higher education. But it's important that students go into the process with both eyes open -- as well as their wallets.

Thirty and Broke

A great, detailed article in Business Week
gets to the heart of the Gen Debt problem. In fact, it reads like a precis of my book. The only difference is, I also write about the 75% who don't get a college degree. This article, like many, focuses on the 25% who do.

In myriad ways, the economics of being 30 have changed for the worse. A college degree is now the minimum required to find a place in the working world that affords some job satisfaction and material comfort. But it doesn't offer protection against turmoil in the labor market, as it once did. Nor does it guarantee such things as health insurance or a retirement plan. And real earnings for college graduates without an advanced degree have fallen four years in a row, for the first time since the 1970s.

Paige belongs to the first generation that came of age with the Internet, grew up marketed to at every turn, is too young to remember the Vietnam War, Watergate, or the Beatles: There are all kinds of ways to describe today's 30-year-olds. But what may really come to distinguish them is that they could be the most indebted generation in modern history.

Two new economic realities are at work. Many had to borrow serious money to attend colleges that are ever more costly. And as soon as they entered school, they were offered credit cards; by 30 many have accumulated thousands of dollars of that very expensive debt, too. Imprudent choices sometimes have compounded their troubles. The consequences can be profound: Many of those 30-year-olds feeling unduly burdened by their financial obligations have had to make compromises on some of life's vital decisions.

National Tuition Endowment Premieres Legislation

"Students nationwide mobilize to return the $30 billion dollars of waste in the federal aid system to students by writing the National Tuition Endowment Act."

This project started at Columbia U. Lots of info/background research at the site, and
find the full text here:


To establish a National Tuition Endowment using the income and savings generated from the federal student financial aid system to provide grants to students. ..

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Counter-recruitment Resources

I got some rather angry emails for my counterrecruitment column, I guess from the 37% of Americans who still support Bush and the war in Iraq. Apparently it is "socialist" of me to think that high school kids in Washington Heights should have something to do after school besides dressing up and playing Army.
Anyway, a few people also wrote asking for more information on counterrecruitment. Here are a few links:
The Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors ( is a great place to start.
Also try the Campus Antiwar Network (, Leave My Child Alone ( which is for the opt-out campaign for high schoolers, and the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition, which is having a national Not Your Soldier day of action November 17.


Thursday, November 03, 2005

Washington Post editorial on student loan & the budget

"The Senate is likely to vote today on a budget reconciliation measure in which the largest source of "savings" by far comes from the student loan program.
Should anyone on the Hill care to point it out, there is an obvious source of genuine savings in the student loan program: Offer students small incentives to choose direct over subsidized loans. But are there fiscal conservatives, in either party, who are willing to risk the wrath of lenders and say so?"

Dream World

Bush says: "What's the biggest threat to the American way of life? It's not terrorism--it's having an uneducated and undercompetitive population floundering in the global economy!"

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Student Loan Resistance

These two sites, Student Loan Hell and Student Loan Slave, are great grassroots community resources for those angry/depressed/can't-take-it-anymore about student debt.

That's good, but we'll need millions

"WASHINGTON, D.C. - Hundreds of college students rallied on Capitol Hill today in opposition to a plan by Republican leaders in Congress to make over $14 billion in cuts - the largest cuts ever - to the nation's student aid programs. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the senior Democrat on the House education committee, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), a member of the education committee, joined the student rally."