College is the path to success, I was told. Get a degree, and companies will be lining up to hire you. Get an internship first – they are often paid! – and you’ll be on the path to a well-paid career in any industry you want and with benefits you’ll never get with any non-degree jobs. What I encountered when I graduated in 2010 was nothing like what I had been sold. I was deep into student loan debt, even after skipping out on my first-choice university due to financial constraints and receiving multiple academic scholarships. It’s hard to overstate the hopelessness of graduating into a jobs market flooded with earlier victims of the Recession struggling to find the same part-time minimum-wage jobs.
I was told even if I didn’t get into the industry I really wanted or had actually studied for, I should just tough it out and stick with whichever company I could get in with. After yearly raises, maybe a couple well-earned promotions and yearly IRA and 401K contributions, I would be able to put away some savings and migrate to whichever job I wanted by then. This was totally divorced from the part-time, gig-economy reality I found myself in. Hours were strictly limited to under-40/week and benefits were non-existent or more costly than the costs they claimed to cover.
Maybe in my parents’ or grandparents’ world when college cost $25 a semester, where we could afford a brand-new car with our savings from working at the local grocers and where every employee could expect a decent pension and full medical coverage, things would have been different. But the world I graduated into in 2010 is the same as our state’s 2020 graduates are about to enter, except now there’s a global pandemic to top it all off. We need to get our collective heads around this new reality if we want to bring our kids a future worth living in. Permanent wage-slavery is not some Socialist talking point. It is the reality millions of our neighbors and their kids are facing right now.