December 3 2013
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed in his Second Bill of Rights that having a job is a right, the squire of Hyde Park unwittingly ushered in the era of White Trash Normal, the subject of my new book.
With apologies to FDR, a job is not a right. How could it be? Obtaining and holding down a job are instead obligations unless a trust fund (now, that’s my idea of a right!?) relieves you of such mundane concerns. It seems that that many recent college grads agree with President Roosevelt, however. Indeed, many have not bothered to cultivate the social virtues, including humility, required for landing and keeping a job. Could that be why so many are joining the leisure class rather than the workforce?
In a thought-provoking story, Time magazine recently explored the real reason new college graduates can’t get hired. It’s not because they lack STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) training, and the recession is only partly to blame. Young people who have bad manners (now called "social skills") and dress eccentrically drive high youth unemployment. Time quoted a global study by Talent Shortage Survey from ManpowerGroup that found that one in five employers worldwide can’t find qualified young people to fill jobs.
"Specifically, companies say candidates are lacking in motivation, interpersonal skills, appearance, punctuality and flexibility," Time noted. Such sloppiness shows us that the values of Skunk Hollow have gone mainstream. And if a young person gives off a vibe of believing a job is just another entitlement, he is less likely to get it. It's also not a bad idea to dress appropriately when seeking work.
Some recent college graduates show up for job interviews in get-ups that would make Snuffy Smith, the moonshiner from the Appalachia, look respectable. Let's face it: Tattoos are dandy if you are a Maori but otherwise do little to improve a young person's job prospects. Sixty percent of respondents in York College of Pennsylvania's 2013 report on Professionalism in the Workplace, which deals with employers' experiences with recent college graduates, regard tattoos as an impediment to professionalism. Yet 38 percent of those in the 18-29 age group are inked.
Even more basic, perhaps, many college grads seem not to have come to terms with the concept of--uh--work.
A Forbes magazine article on job hunting mistakes new college grads make noted that all too many are likely to say they seek an entry level position where I can use my skills, ideas, and enthusiasm and I can learn a lot. And a potential employer might care about this because?
When I ask interns to do low-level telephoning for me, they expect me to look up the phone numbers. Sorry, they’re there to help me with my job, not the other way around. A friend of a friend who was supervising recent graduates complained about their tendency to give assignments back to her with notes along the lines that someone should check this or that. She had to tell them, “That would be you.”
"This group, age 20-32, makes a series of job-searching mistakes that stem from their sense of entitlement, lack of deference to authority, and over-involvement by their parents," Forbes reported. Elayne Clift, an adjunct faculty member at several New England colleges, wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "Increasingly, students seem not to realize what a college degree, especially a graduate degree, tells the world about one's abilities and competence. They have no clue what is expected of them at the higher levels of academic discourse and what will be expected of them in the workplace."
One of the main reasons so many privileged young college graduates act like White Trash is, ironically, that they are spoiled. They don’t recognize that work is something you do out of obligation. Enthusiasm is nice, but it’s not historically why people have worked.
Carrying FDR’s gospel of job-entitlement just a bit further, President Obama said during his 2013 State of the Union address that nobody should work full time and still live in poverty. This sounds nice, but I wonder what America’s founders would have thought if somebody had told them this. They knew you had to work full time to survive on a newly settled continent and still maybe do some starving along the way. The upshot is that through thrift and good habits, they prospered.
If we don’t cure our trashy ways, we as a society are going down. If the recession has a silver lining, maybe it is teaching some recent college graduates the value of a job.