Monday, August 15, 2005

(Under) Employment?

What's up in the District?

Had a good weekend this weekend, staying up late discussing the world with my roommates--actually, I think I put most of them to sleep, but I'll take what I can get. Saturday was a housewarming party for a houseful of HHH grads on the northwestern part of town. It was a fun get-together, even if the heat outside and large number of bodies inside made it a little bit warmer than most would have preferred.

Other than that, a fairly uneventful last week. We are minus-1 roommate this week because she's in Michigan presenting at a conference, but we gain another short-term roommate tonight. I hope we don't scare her too much.

Musing of the moment

I've been wondering about a couple things recently: affirmative action and local vs. national politics. I'm getting kind of bored with both of them right now, and will throw out something that I've given much less thought, but jumped into my head this morning:

Employment vs. a Job

Employ: 1 a : to make use of (someone or something inactive) <employ a pen for sketching> b : to use (as time) advantageously c (1) : to use or engage the services of

Job: something that has to be done

The world has too many people doing jobs and not enough people who are employed. My first sense of this came when I saw the difficulties many of my students were having finding jobs in China. Many of these young people are incredibly intelligent, hard working, and have a much better grasp of the way the world works than most of their American counterparts (myself included). Unfortunately, they live in an economic system that has yet to fully grasp the value of those attributes, so instead of finding employment, they found (or settled for) jobs.

Before any of you start pulling up a soap box to talk about the evils of socialism, or the problems of "socialism with Chinese characteristics," let me say that in the U.S. we often have the same problem. A friend of mine finished college fluent in three languages, and spent two years after graduation teaching in Europe. When she got back to the U.S. she looked for employment for a while, but had to settle for a "job" as a nanny because it was the best job she could find.

Another friend of mine is an extremely intelligent and talented woman who finished college in 3 years and who now has a master's degree. She didn't manage to get into a PhD program right after finishing her masters', so began looking for employment. What did she find? A job at a bookstore. Not managing it, just working there. She spent a long time at that bookstore, and is now moving with her husband to pursue her doctorate.

Some of you may know I spent a few months waiting tables at a Japanese restaurant in Minneapolis. It was the first (and likely only) time I'll ever be a server, but if there was a more overqualified serving staff in the city I'd be shocked. There were only about 10 servers or so, but 2 were getting PhDs, and 3 pursuing masters.

I guess I'm just trying to say that our economic structure is getting out of whack. When you need a bachelor's degree to earn a job that a high-school summer-temp can do, it means people are underemployed--whether economists say so or not. When I have to have a masters degree and five years of experience just to qualify for a job that requires limited-to-no critical thinking ability or knowledge of any of the skills or techniques earned in graduate school, what are we training our population for?

I have no problem working hard in a job, or even working hard to find a job. Quite the contrary--if a job doesn't need me to work hard at it, I'm not the right person for that job. At the same time I don't think it's unreasonable to expect that a job will, at least in some way, justify the extra years of education and investment I've made since finishing high school 8 years ago.

Call me crazy.


Anonymous said...

There was an op-ed in the NY Times (Friedman I think) a few weeks back regarding the employment statistics the government tosses out being inaccurate because the definition of "work force" is excluding those who SHOULD be working but choose not to. Apparently, the stats drop off people who are not actively seeking employment, regardless of age, and there was a study showing that not all those who could work were interested in doing so.

Bottom line, the fewer people counted as "in the labor force" combined with the same number of people employed means the unemployment figure is understated.

So our economy may be a bit worse off than anticipated, forcing PhD's to serve sushi and MBAs into government.

Anonymous said...

Oops, that was from your friendly UMN law JD'er who incidentally was not the most bitter man on that campus.