Vast majority of Americans bored with their jobs

While the big concern these days is unemployment and lack of any significant job creation, a simmering problem in our society is the fact that most people who are lucky to have a job at all are simply bored out of their minds while at work.  A recent Gallup poll found that 71% of employees are either "not engaged" or "actively disengaged" in their work.

Another astonishing result of the survey is that people who've had some college education, including those who've gone on for post graduate degrees, are among those least engaged in their jobs.  So much for the idea that higher education leads to more interesting, stimulating, creative life pursuits.  In fact, those most "engaged" with their jobs are people who've had only a high school education, 34%. 

Given the jobs and income panic in the U.S. right now, I doubt that this problem will attract much attention or concern for the time being.  But think of all the intelligence and concern that psychologists, organization theorists, managers, and business school gurus have lavished over the decades on such topics as "self actualization" and all those wonderful steps employees take as they ascend Maslow's pyramid. What happened to all of that?

Even if basic numerical trends in employment start to improve, it appears that our economy will  remain rotten at much deeper levels. 

College "student aid" package = crushing burden of debt

As students receive the letter saying "Congratulations, you've been admitted to" the college, university or graduate school of their choice, there's usually another package of materials labeled "Financial Aid."  In times long passed this may have meant a scholarship or fellowship offering all most of the cost of tuition and, perhaps, even a stipend for living expenses.  In sane, well-managed, egalitarian nations of the world, often this is  still true.  Societies of that kind understand that supporting talented young people in their quest for knowledge and preparation for meaningful work is a public good of great importance.  But in the U.S.A. ....?

During the past 30 years, what is fraudulently labeled "your student aid package" has actually become "your crushing burden of long term debt."  Under the neoliberal (free market conservative) policy approach, students are defined as "customers" and "consumers" whose ability to purchase goods and services is a matter of ability to pay, or more likely, to borrow and borrow and borrow.

Now the results are in.  A story in the Wall Street Journal  reports that the crushing burden of student debt in America now exceeds money owed on credit cards. "Student loans outstanding today — both federal and private — total some $829.785 billion, according to Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of and"  Credit card debt amounts to a mere $826.5 billion. 

Young people and their anxious families used to assume that the debt load was well worth it because there would always be challenging high paid jobs issued with one's cap and gown.  Alas, that is no longer true.  When university brochures talk about their "outstanding graduates," they may be referring to the amount of money the poor souls owe.

Is student debt America's next financial "bubble"?  If so, when will it pop?

The death of "The Career" in today's America?

As someone who works in "higher education," I'm increasingly struck by the ways in which the myths that have long surrounded our enterprise are being shattered.  Not that I celebrate these developments, mind you, but the evidence mounts that Toto has pulled away the curtain to reveal the Wizard of Oz frantically pulling levers connected to a vast smoke and mirror machine.  The chart above comes from a web site, Shareable: Life and Art, that covers this story closely.

One especially vivid description of the world that awaits those who have invested years of their young lives and assumed mountains of debt in the process is Sarah Idzik's article, "Unprepared: From Elite College to The Job Market."  A close friend, himself a denizen of this bizarre world, sent the piece to me and it's enough to make you cry, even if you're not a member of the education BIZ directly threatened as stories like this enter the stream of public awareness.  Ms Idzik writes:

"I was naïve about the real world much in the same way that I was naïve about academic life. I searched for jobs primarily on Craigslist. I didn’t know what to do with my resume. I only had enough money from my graduation gifts to last a couple of months unemployed in Chicago; after that, it would be back to suburban Pennsylvania. Looking at job postings, I realized I had no idea what I was even looking for. Jobs were scarce, let alone appealing gigs. Furthermore, I was totally unqualified, based on the advertised requirements, for anything but clerical administrative work. All that I had learned, all that I had overcome and accomplished, and here I was scanning dozens upon dozens of ads looking for the rare few with the words “administrative assistant” in them.
Not knowing what else to do, not having any clue or any direction, feeling the hot breath of unemployment breathing down my neck, I applied to all of them.

I managed to get lucky – and despite my degree, it does feel like luck. I had a job by July, one of the applications for which I had, by this point tired and getting lazy, attached my resume to an email and just dashed off a paragraph in the body about how great and bright I was. This is the same job I still have now, almost three years later—a gig at a small travel company typing and printing travel documents for unbelievably wealthy, entitled globetrotters who won’t read any of them. This was about as far from the highbrow literature of my undergraduate years as construction work. I was terrified to start an actual 9 to 5 job; it seemed like a myth, something surreal, something that couldn’t touch my life.

After starting, the disbelief soon gave way to misery. The day-to-day experience left me feeling utterly crushed. I wasn’t creating anything, I wasn’t even really doing anything of any consequence at all. I got on the bus every morning, exhausted, with all the other people who worked in offices downtown. I walked into the office every day, sat at the same desk, in the same chair, did the same things. I adopted the same bubbly, pleasant attitude as my coworkers, with whom I felt no connection at all. It made no sense to see them as real people I might connect with, since after all, I felt like this was not where I belonged: an office in an industry that had nothing to do with my life, in a job in which I had no real interest. I had nothing invested in my job or my employer, I did what I had to do: hammer out the work, play nice. But I felt all day long that I was inhabiting a strange bubble, separate from where I really lived my life, removed from anything that affected me or that I cared about."

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A close friend (who will remain nameless) who works at a very fine law school (that will also remain nameless), told me about some law school graduates who found that none of the great jobs they'd been promised were waiting for them at the end of the legal assembly line.  In response, they started a  blog or two to discuss the embarrassing situation, postings that angered university officials.  Especially worrisome for university brass was the fact that that the law school admissions pitch still sells the "Great Job Just Ahead!" idea to entice young debtors waiting in the cue.  When administrators from their alma mater approached, the students -- skilled negotiators, after all  --  offered a neat deal: We'll stop publishing these stories if you'll forgive our our law school debts.  

To my way of thinking, important, widespread realization in America right now is that the promise of a "career" made possible an education at an "elite university" is rapidly fading.  As news seeps out, what will happen?  What will happen to sky high tuitions along with the lavish salaries of university presidents and over-paid academic managers who never set foot in the classroom?

A booming voice proclaims: "PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN!!!"