No Country for Young Men

I’d like to draw your attention to several articles and blog posts (most of them somewhat old but still entirely relevant) that discuss what many have termed the “post-employment economy.” This refers to the more or less permanently disfigured American economy that has emerged from the global financial crisis—a place of long-term unemployment, despair, withering job opportunities, and ruthless exploitation in the form of unpaid work and part-time slavery. The post-employment economy has affected people of all ages but has been particularly hard on young people: the so-called Millenials.

I don’t think people realize how bad things are. The situation is not helped by feckless politicians and arrogant Baby Boomers, who claim the economy is improving and that unemployment is therefore a function of laziness. How wrong they are. The illusion of recovery has been created by phony unemployment “statistics” and worthless, credit-fueled consumption. Consider these articles to be your primer on what’s really happening.

First, read Sarah Kendzior at Al Jazeera in an article entitled “Surviving the post-employment economy.” According to Ms. Kendzior, “the reality is that, in the ‘jobless recovery,’ nearly every sector of the economy has been decimated. Companies have turned permanent jobs into contingency labour, and entry-level positions into unpaid internships.” She thus gives the lie to those who claim that young people have created their own nightmares by choosing the “wrong” college majors. If only these young’uns had chosen that mystical field of eternal plenty known as Engineering, so the propaganda narrative goes, they would now be enjoying steady employment and solid pay. False. Unemployment (or “employment” in the form of unpaid internships and low-wage contingency labor) is no longer just a feature of academia; it has spread to fields such as computer science, engineering, and medicine.

Ms. Kendzior has also written a maddening and heartbreaking piece on the trend toward not paying people for delivering valuable services. As a focus, she chooses the field (such as it is) of journalism. That writers are an exploited lot is nothing new to your humble correspondent. (I joke to people that I write for a dying, not a living.) Nick Cohen has written on this as well: I urge everyone to read his own account of being offered precisely nothing to write and deliver a lecture. The reason given to him (and to all others asked to work for free): this gratis contribution to us will give you valuable “exposure,” which will lead to other opportunities from people who actually will pay you!

Be sure, then, to read Eric Garland as he eviscerates this condescending corporate meme of “getting exposure.” This is a dangerous trend. Unpaid work is becoming normalized. As competition for this “exposure” work increases, the period in which people will be expected to work for nothing will only increase. Supply and demand.

And do read Monica Nixon, who writes for the wonderful Transitionistas blog. A persistent theme of Ms. Nixon’s work is that traditionally full-time work is being steadily converted into part-time work. She also writes that the trend toward unpaid work has been extended to highly experienced professionals, not just young people trying to break into specific fields. Our economic “recovery” is thus simply a process of replacing career jobs with low-wage work: the McDonaldsization of the labor market.

The conclusion I draw from all these pieces is that American youth is being turned into a kind of permanent underclass. They have no means to sustain themselves other than to rely on their parents or the government. I cannot think of one reason why the United States can survive this situation if it persists.

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