Welcome to our world

Saw this over at Shakesville.  It’s a New York Times article about a white college graduate who turned down a $40,000 job:

Rather than waste early years in dead-end work, he reasoned, he would hold out for a corporate position that would draw on his college training and put him, as he sees it, on the bottom rungs of a career ladder.

Melissa McEwan summed it up thusly:

It’s quite amazing … that this entire story could be written into existence with nary a single use of the word “privilege” in its entirety.

Did I say amazing? I meant typical.

Apparently this type of story is “man bites dog.” Or rather, white man bites dog. Because suddenly certain issues are becoming big news. Take unemployment. Unemployment in the African American community has been more than ten percent for years. But unemployment is big news now. Because it has hit white people.

This is what happens when people are raised with an overinflated sense of privilege and entitlement.

The 24-year-old in the Times story majored in political science and minored in history.  The article mentions he was the “winner of a dean’s award for academic excellence.”  Which means he managed to achieve a 3.3 GPA for one semester.  BFD.  Where I come from, that’s not much of an accomplishment.  Especially for a student whose college education is entirely funded by his family.

Because there are lots of students who don’t have that kind of family money.  And they maintain high GPAs despite working nearly full-time.  Because there is no other option.

And they take entry-level jobs upon graduation.  Because, again, there is no other option.  No parents to pay their $1,000/month rent and their cell phone bills.

Let’s face it, $40,000 is a heck of a starting salary for somebody with no experience.  I know Ph.D. recipients who have started for less.  It’s the economy, stupid.

But again, this struck me as an old story, made new again by the addition of a white protagonist.  Look to communities of color and this is nothing new.  Only it doesn’t make the New York Times.  African Americans with undergraduate and graduate degrees working in so-called “menial” jobs.  Japanese Americans after World War II working as “houseboys” and gardeners and store clerks, despite their education.  This type of underemployment persists to this day.

Recent immigrants are also familiar with underemployment.  I’ve met engineers and medical doctors working in restaurants and dry cleaners.  The phlebotomist at my doctor’s office is herself an M.D.

But suddenly it’s news.  Because it wasn’t supposed to happen to white people.


7 thoughts on “Welcome to our world

  1. I’m shocked by that “$40K is too low” line. That’s more than double what I’m making – and I was on the dean’s list every single semester in college. And I think I’m lucky to be making what I’m making, and I benefit a lot from white/class privilege.

  2. As cliché as it is, the only way to overcome these disadvantages is to be fast on your feet. A lesson that will be just as hard for that young man who is finding that his advantages are few.

    The rise to where I am had no class advantage. I started out a 15 year old foster home veteran. But I focused on actually being better. In that end, that wins. The very well paid and successful world I work in; even in this economy we are kicking ass; is driven entirely by success, not skin tone or even nationality. If you are good you are accepted.

    The situation does suck for everyone and people of color in particular. I know that. That isn’t going to change anytime soon. Focus on what you can do to change things. Be better.

  3. Another thing that shocked is that the sucker is a lazy ass. He was sending if I recall correctly less than 10 applications a week. When I was job hunting I would send off 20 a day looking for IT work, so i got at least 4 call backs a day and three interviews a week.

    Like many things in the NY Times it only matter when it bother uppler class caucasians.

  4. I saw that article and was absolutely shocked to see that fellow turn down a $40k job. I *still* can’t believe that at 24, he’s totally fine with turning down a real job, and real experience. [except I kinda can, cuz I work with a guy and his daughter is like that – a monster created by her parents]

    What hiring manager would see this and think this candidate was actually worth it? I know a girl who’s a new lawyer and she’s working for a monthly subway pass. Not to mention all the fully unemployed lawyers…

  5. Another big contributing factor: generation(kids of baby boomers) & parents influence. The parents could stop paying their son’s mobile bills, insurance, gas, and he’d more likely be scraping around for work. A very few parents start charging their kids rent when they turn 18, or make them pay their own auto insurance, and even car- and those people learn real quick how to take care of themselves.

    NY times had another article all about the “Millennial”, or “me” generation- kids of baby boomers as being characteristically optomistic and self centered that things would come easy.

  6. How disgusting is this story? I moved out New York City, of all places, as soon as I graduated from a university where I split more than $80,000 in loans with my retirement-age parents. (These days, this large-endowment school would give families like mine a financial break. My folks took a loan out against our modest home, a privilege for most folks at that.) My mother decided to keep working, but she surely was not adding money to my bank account every five minutes. My first job was at a nonprofit, for which my salary was $27,000. Crazy boss in that position, so I hauled ass to Washington D.C., on my own dime, to a $25,000 program assistant’s job and lived in what turned out to be a roach-infested studio apartment for $500/month. Better work environment helped me make my bones in communications work, and later public affairs. Now in my mid-30s, I make enough to save for partial-retirement living, because I expect Social Security’s age of eligibility will be 85 eventually, and have a decent vacation. Despite taking an unconventional professional route, I know exactly how fortunate I am to have these opportunities. They shaped me. In some instances I imagine I was underpaid for my skills-set as I gained experience, and I probably wouldn’t accept less than what I make now unless I was pushed against the wall. But the reality is, as a black woman just starting out, even with a degree, I didn’t have the luxury to sit on my tail and demand more dollars. People would have laughed in my face. I was lucky to have paid internships when I was in college, but I also worked part-time in retail positions and in the dining hall. That was the only way I had some savings when I graduated. Sorry for taking so long, but my brain waves curl when I see how some individuals like this whippersnapper don’t see how privileged they really are.

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