Friday, July 29, 2011

Listen. Read. Learn.
day 70

If you want to know what a bad economy looks like and why education is vital, take note: 

LISTEN  to the compellng NPR series on
high school dropouts. This interview with
 44 year old Kenny Buchanan. Click Here.
This summer, our 18 year old son Phillip, a rising sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh, has worked piecemeal at four separate jobs for four separate companies. Originally, he was scheduled to return to a position as a paid summer intern at Children's National Medical Center. Yet, after a wave of federal cuts, the hospital was forced to suspend the program.  For several weeks thereafter, Phillip scrambled for paid work and a semblance of a medical experience that would now assuredly be unpaid.

In the end, the National Institutes of Health offered him an exciting weekly opportunity to sit in on Dr. House style reviews of difficult medical cases. In addition, after visiting 12  businesses he was offered his former camp counselor position --though only part time in May and then not again until August. Hunting down an income filler, he found work scooping ice cream at Giffords, one of our oldest area parlors.

What began as a patchwork scenario, however, has  ended that way --in an insane flurry of truncated hours. We learned that the ice cream parlor manager was working most shifts, leaving Phillip and the other youth with only one to two shifts per week or approximately 40 post tax dollars. Then suddenly, the parlor closed after a dispute with PEPCO over a $21,000 unpaid electric bill. In the midst of 100 degree days and the peak of ice cream sales, with two days' notice, that job had evaporated. 

Since then, Phillip has picked up several days as a jumper for National News, a job which entails "jumping" out of a truck and running into hotels, Capitol Hill offices and apartment complexes to deliver newspapers to places missed earlier that morning.

This information travels a long Sunday drive to make a short brusque point:

An uneducated person living in 21st century America stands little chance of surviving economically. The most valuable experience of Phillip's summer has been not the medical case studies but in working the other positions. In these, he has stood side by side by with adults who in many cases dropped out of high school. What he has witnessed is what limited education means in black and white. 

It means at any moment, you can lose your job which only pays seven or eight dollars and hour--not enough to purchase a home or rent an apartment. It means your "job" is often not full time because if the establishment is not making money, you are not on the schedule. It means no health insurance and no vacation. It means if you don't have your education, you are a journeyman in the murky swamp of low pay work.

Education is not just about income and being able to rest better at night. It's about options; it's about not getting locked in because you can't go anywhere else, or do anything else. It means you may have a chance to do the work you want to do, rather than the work you must do. And yes, it means this: One day you might lose your job. But when businesses rebound and seek to hire, you are likely to be in the front of the line because you are educated, rather than the back because you are not.

Working in the 100 degree heat this summer, Phillip got to know a young man in his mid-20s. Chatty, affable and energetic, the man shared that many years ago he had dropped out of high school to work. Though doing so full time for years now, he is still living in his mother's basement. His wages are the same as they always have been: barrel-low, barely sustaining.

Stay in school.



Anonymous said...

So true...sadly, this country is making it harder and harder for "everyone" to be able to AFFORD to go to school. NO school should cost $50k/year! Colleges are big businesses and the loan process is a game! FeeFee Winterz :-)

Fleur de Lis Quilts said...

I'm an educator and tell these stories all the time in an effort to help my students see how important even a high school diploma is. I can't imagine going back to the days when my husband and I both were making minimum wage. We sacrificed so that I could attend college classes but it's been so worth what we gave up.

AsteropeBC said...

This has been a trend in the US - in my parents' generation, it was debatable whether a degree would pay for itself. These days, many companies will not substitute job-related experience. They won't even consider you unless you have a degree, even if it is not related to the job! Low wages, lack of benefits and access to health care really leaves people without a degree up the creek, so to speak.

Wanda Fleming of River Girls Soap said...

It is virtually impossible to enter most professional fields or corporate America today without a college degree. If you want to be in the service or restaurant industry sure but even then count on starting at the very bottom and pray that the wheels do not fall off that buggy. Never mind not having a high school diploma. That is clear economic suicide in the modern era.

I was fortunate to grow up in a household where both parents had some college, and one had a degree (my mother) when only 20-25% of Americans completed college---few women, fewer minorities. There was never a time when I did not recall my parents' expectation that come hell or high water the six of us would get our educations.

It is very difficult for children to aspire if parents do not, and with free public education and small affordable community colleges, it is quite possible to go beyond the 9th or 10th grade!! Parents can have nothing and still --through their own experience communicate the need and value of going further. There is poverty of the pocket and poverty of the mind. The combination is deadly.

8:18 AM

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