overqualified, my ass

Last night on a late-night ice cream run, I picked up the new issue of Good Magazine, since I accidentally let my subscription lapse. Good usually has lots of beautiful graphics and interesting stories about creative people trying to make their communities a little better. It’s like a much less political, way more hippie-oriented Mother Jones.

So. This issue was all about work. Which is, of course, a touchy subject, what with the economy being in the tank and all. You will be pleased to know that I only made it as far as the first feature story before I was stopped in my tracks by elitist, classist wankery that made me get out my red pen. Here’s the article, which is about how there are a lot of 20-something (white, middle class) college graduates who are can only find jobs right now at jobs that *gasp* don’t normally require a college education. The horror!

Apparently, to elitist fuckwads, a less-than-inspiring job is a fate worse than unemployment. No really, they come right out and say so:

“And while unemployment and the lack of full-time jobs are problems, [some economics professor guy] says that having a job for which one is overqualified is worse.”

Can we just pause for a split second and ponder the enormity of unexamined privilege that would allow someone to say something like that? There are people in this country who literally can’t put food on the table in front of their kids, people who are losing their homes and their businesses – and Mr. Professor Guy wants me to shed a tear over some 27-year old living in his parent’s basement because his job is depressing?

And why should being over-qualified be so tough? Apparently, it grates at the soul in a way that poor (read: stupid and lazy) people can’t even begin to imagine. See, crappy low-paying jobs are fine for them, but for “the only person in his entire company to crack open a book during their 30-minute lunch break,” the shame is quite harrowing.

The whole story is one giant pile of fail, but this was truly the centerpiece:

“For some people, the recession has forever altered perceptions of how the world works, creating the impression that success has more to do with luck than with hard work.”

I’m really glad the author made sure to inform us that the sky is only falling for “Some People”. Because there are, and always have been “OTHER People” (see what I did there, with the othering?) for whom things have always sucked. People who have always been aware that the reason they were being denied jobs, housing, and educational opportunities was because of their dumb luck to be born poor, or female, or non-white, or of being disabled, or an immigrant, or transgender. And those OTHER PEOPLE have never been able to climb out of the disheartening pit of joblessness, economic insecurity, and marginalization, no matter how hard they work.

But we’re not interested in those Other People, are we? That would require confronting the enormity of the privilege that has allowed white, educated, middle class Americans to ignore the suffering of others until we, too, finally find ourselves suffering.

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3 responses to “overqualified, my ass

  1. Gerald Fnord

    If I were much richer, and a complete jerk (you may decide on how partial my jerkiness may be), I would laugh at a put-upon, middle-class, person’s berating other put-upon, middle-class, persons for wanting more than poor people have, and completely ignoring the fact that the reason any of you were in that state is because the world belongs to ‘me’ (in those circumstances) and my class. It really does belong to them, not us, and so it is entirely reasonable for anyone not rich to be pissed-off, whether it’s because they’ve got no job, a bad job, or simply an unfulfilling one.

    Why not have sympathy for everyone in difficulty?

    Beside: It might be cynical of me, but I think the middle class are more likely to see the need for decent lives for the poor only when they have a reasonably secure chance of a much more than “decent” life for themselves. It’s no coincidence that the (very falsely maligned) Great Society was only able to come on-line when the vast middle classes had secure, relatively safe, and relatively remunerative livings. The lack of rachmones, verging often on sheer hatred, for the poor (or for middle-class people foreclosed-on, Mr Santelli) is a sickness exacerbated by the insecurity of the middle.

    Also, I think that ‘expecting too much out of life’—for yourself and for others—is the only way to progress:

    A rich man asked a rabbi, “How can I be more charitable, it doesn’t come easily to me.” The rabbi asked, “How do you live?”, and the rich man painted a portrait of a man who wanted to save money to give charitably, eating but bread and salt, drinking wine only when required, and even foregoing marital pleasure except when required, out of concern for the poor who could not afford dowries. The rabbi said, “You must eat meat at least twice a week, drink wine in moderation, and visit your wife as often as she is willing and it is lawful.” The man left, and a disciple asked the rabbi, “Why did you not simply tell him to give more than he had? Why did you tell him to eat meat.” The rabbi said, “A rich man should eat meat so that he knows the poor need bread—if he lives on bread, he will believe that the poor can live on stones.”

    And, honesty compels me to say, I am an élitist, just as (for example) anyone sane who needs open-heart surgery should be. I am not loathesome (at least in that respect) because I wish _everyone_ to join the élite, leave the sh-t jobs to machines, and ride our high expectations to nthe Lagrange points and beyond.

  2. Hi Gerald, thanks for your comment! I’m guessing you heard me on the radio this afternoon. It sounds like you and I are mostly in agreement, especially when it comes to noting that, poor or middle class, the super-rich have hurt us all. I think you’re absolutely correct in your assertion that the middle class doesn’t feel very secure right now, or ever.

    Hopefully you also agree that the Good article in particular is complete rubbish. There were a lot of legitimate directions the story could have gone. For instance, I would have welcomed a discussion of older workers who are overqualified for their jobs in terms of experience AND education (I don’t kid myself that having a bachelor’s degree but fewer than 3 years work experience in my industry makes me “overqualified” for anything – experience matters).

    Or if Good wanted to be especially discerning, they could have done an article about how our national narrative of promoting college as the only path toward well-paying, fulfilling jobs necessarily means that there will be too many debt-ridden college grads looking for jobs while at the same time reinforcing a ‘bootstraps’ mentality regarding alleviating poverty. Perhaps we don’t need more college graduates nearly as much as we need to place more value on working-class jobs by paying them a living wage.

  3. Hi Gerald, thanks for your comment! I’m guessing you heard me on the radio this afternoon. It sounds like you and I are mostly in agreement, especially when it comes to noting that, poor or middle class, the super-rich have hurt us all. I think you’re absolutely correct in your assertion that the middle class doesn’t feel very secure right now, or ever.

    Hopefully you also agree that the Good article in particular is complete rubbish. There were a lot of legitimate directions the story could have gone. For instance, I would have welcomed a discussion of older workers who are overqualified for their jobs in terms of experience AND education (I don’t kid myself that having a bachelor’s degree but fewer than 3 years work experience in my industry makes me “overqualified” for anything – experience matters).

    Or if Good wanted to be especially discerning, they could have done an article about how our national narrativeof promoting college as the only path toward well-paying, fulfilling jobs necessarily means that there will be too many debt-ridden college grads looking for jobs while at the same time reinforcing a ‘bootstraps’ mentality regarding alleviating poverty. Perhaps we don’t need more college graduates nearly as much as we need to placemore value on working-class jobs by paying them a living wage. Thanks for your input!

    -Sarah

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