I got to thinking about that the other day while reading of the problems of recent college graduates who can’t find jobs and are loaded with student-loan debt. I can’t identify with their joblessness, because being a member of a small demographic group — the babies who were born as the country was coming out of The Great Depression — there was plenty of room for newcomers and I got every job I ever applied for, even being able to pick and choose among newspaper opportunities.
But I am in touch with their financial plight, having chosen a profession at the time notorious for its low pay, and on top of that as a girl I could expect little more than half of what the guys earned. But I did have a job, despite the fact that during my single working days I could never afford a car or even a small television set. Food and clothing and rent consumed my paycheck; a trip to California, to anywhere — forget it.
The line in the article that jumped out at me, though, was the report that many of today’s recent college grads must make do “… by living in houses packed with roommates to keep the rent low.” That’s the situation I was in, in 1957, after accepting an invitation from three former classmates to share their small, two-bedroom, one-bath basement apartment.
It was no hardship for me. Due at work at 7 a.m., I had the bathroom to myself five days a week, a real treat because one of those facilities per household was pretty much a given for middle-class families of the day. (Picture the rush-hour at our house with three sisters getting ready for school.) And since I’d bunked with a sister from age 3 to 18, sharing a double bed was no problem either. In the college dorm, I’d had my own single bed, but in a small room shared with two other girls. The bathroom was, of course, communal.
I’m not making light of the situation faced by many of today’s college grads, because the good news for us was that we were on our way up — not down. We got better jobs and/or got married, had children and moved into homes bigger and with more amenities than those in which we’d grown up. I’d venture to say that not many of our offspring shared beds or even rooms. They were the college grads of the early ‘80s, latter-day Baby Boomers, and they are the parents of those who must now “make do.”
It sucks, not being able to get on with your life, unable to get a job in a field that you love and for which you’ve spent four or five years — maybe more — preparing yourself.
At 21, 22, 23 you’re rarin’ to go, and having to put things on hold is the pits.
You’ve no doubt noticed that I’ve been talking exclusively about the joblessness of the college crowd — we write about what we know, don’t we? But the times are even tougher for those who couldn’t — or chose not to — go for higher education.
“Paralyzed by a painful economy, some young adults have decided to forego college degrees, graduate schools or even the search for full-time work,” reports the Wall Street Journal. “Others are working temporarily or odd jobs just to get by. Many have moved back in with their parents.”
The article goes on to say that those with degrees are seeing little advantage from their advanced educations compared with workers over 25 who have degrees. “And if history is a guide, they will earn 9 percent less on average than if they had gone to college in better times.”
What, me worry at 76? Well, like most of my contemporaries, I have grandchildren who’ll be looking for jobs in six or so years. I worry for them. I wish they were growing up in better times.
Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living Section, for which she wrote Silver Threads until her retirement. Email her at email@example.com.