Chasing thunderstorms and hoping to get struck by lightning

When I drove down to my old university last week, I spoke to some of my fellow graduate students who are still in the program. They are worried about what classes they can take next quarter. It is a similar story at Sonoma State University. Both schools are part of the California State University system, which is less prestigious and more affordable than the University of California system and whose budget has suffered cuts repeatedly over the last several years.

Lots of students are looking for classes but lots of teachers are being laid off. As Joseph Stiglitz said on Democracy Now!, “the unusual situation we have today is there are a lot of youth unemployment, but the schools, the universities are being cut back so that they can’t use this time to build up their skills.”

Teaching was my plan, after hitting every recession since the mid-1980s, landing hard each time, and realizing that capitalists are exporting jobs, the jobs I had been raised to understand as “real,” just as fast as they can, with encouragement in the form of tax breaks from the U.S. government.

Job hunting has become like chasing thunderstorms and hoping to be struck by lightning. I’m competing against seemingly hundreds of people with Ph.D.’s even for each job at the community college level. I won’t have my Ph.D. for a few more years yet and I don’t yet have any publication credits to my name.

But I’m past fury at the nonsense in Washington, D.C. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is pushing a paltry $15 billion bill which is apparently part of an $80 billion package that “is still too small.” The politicians are playing politics with the worst unemployment crisis since the Great Depression, but I suppose we can’t expect any better from the Democrats. Criticism over their ineptitude has come from many quarters; as Law Professor and Television Writer David Feige put it in his open letter to Barack Obama, “To imagine that we could not undo with 60 seats what George Bush accomplished with 53, is a profound statement about the utter ineffectiveness of your high road rhetoric.”

As Paul Krugman put it in response to some out of context quotes from an Obama interview on banker bonuses, “We’re doomed.” The quotes might have been out of context, but as Slate writer Christopher Beam explained, “What Obama doesn’t seem to understand is that, for politicians, outrage can’t be just momentary. It needs to be sustained over time–enhanced, even. If a politician is outraged by something, he must be outraged by it every time anyone brings it up.”

If that’s hard for Obama to comprehend, then it must be completely unreasonable to expect him to grasp that even sustained outrage wouldn’t be enough. Action is needed; instead Krugman has had to repeatedly criticize “fear-mongering on the deficit,” and to argue that “if anything, deficits should be bigger than they are because the government should be doing more than it is to create jobs.”

But for the elites, there just is no emergency. As Bob Herbert wrote,

The folks in the upper-income group are not suffering much, if at all, from the profound reversals in employment brought about by the Great Recession. Those in the middle have been hit hard. The job losses there have been severe and long-lasting. But for those in the lower-income groups, the scale of the employment crisis has been mind-boggling.

Joel Hirschhorn adds that “those at the bottom of the economic system with no political power are experiencing something as bad as the Great Depression, with no end in sight. The numbers are stark:

$150,000 or more
3.2 percent
$100,000 to 149,999
8 percent
$75,000 to $99,999
5 percent
$60,000 to $75,000
6.4 percent
$50,000 to $59,000
7.8 percent
$40,000 to $49,000
9 percent
$30,000 to $39,999
12.2 percent
$20,000 to $29,999
19.7 percent
$12,500 to $20,000
19.1 percent
$12,499 or less
30.8 percent

With an advanced degree, I’m thinking I should be among the upper-income groups. In fact, my situation can be distinguished from the lower-income groups with apparently no prospect for employment at all, only by the massive amount of student loan debt I have amassed to get this far. It shouldn’t be this way. There are a lot of students needing teachers. But for a country whose only hope for the future rests upon an educated workforce, it is clear that they aren’t important either.

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