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Works and Days

The Terrifying New Normal

September 3rd, 2012 - 6:04 pm

Note that as a poor substitute for a job, we institutionalized something called the “internship.” The best I can tell (I get weekly barrages of inquiries from young people wanting to “intern”), you would enjoy the work of free workers who in exchange for their uncompensated labor gather skills and influence that translate at some nebulous date into real work. How odd that the government that fines an employer who does not duly pay proper overtime wages is not interested in the tens of millions of youth who are working largely as Spartan helots.

These new realities fall heavily on the young male. Traditionally, he was in charge of taking charge — working two jobs to acquire enough to seed a marriage and family or buy a house, striving to be the protector of the household, and accruing experience in his late twenties that would translate into needed promotions in his thirties that would later on pay for braces, kids’ camp, and college tuitions.

No more. We have become emasculated Italians, our economy ossified and socialized to such an extent that few are taking risks to open new businesses in Illinois, build a pipeline across Nebraska, plant a 600-acre irrigated field, or open a timber mill or mine in California. Only so many of the unemployed can land a government job monitoring delta smelt populations or suing to shut down another power plant. In other words, I don’t think Barack Obama at the convention this week is going to be bragging too much about “millions of new green jobs,” more subsidies to Solyndra clones, another stimulus, keeping the deficit at $1 trillion plus, another federal takeover, more juicy details about Obamacare, higher taxes on the greedy, another gas lease denied, or yet more pipelines tabled. He may wish to continue all that, but he surely won’t wish to tell us so.

The new model for the next generation is to cobble part-time work together, intern, occasionally draw on unemployment, send out resumes hourly, and hope for something to turn up (preferably in government, state or federal). We all witness the reality behind these statistics firsthand. When we travel we see more and more older people at work, often well into their 70s. I know 50 or so young offspring of friends, relatives, and associates who are desperately trying to find work.

Some other symptoms: There is a new backlash at colleges, which habitually lie to students about the value of their degrees and care more that their offices of diversity are staffed well and their vice provosts for external relations are hitting all the necessary conferences — at least far more than they worry that their tuition increases have yearly soared well beyond the rates of inflation. The federal government, of course, has masked such excess with subsidized loan-sharking. I asked some young people recently what their various (and all had confusing loan “packages”) “subsidized” student loan interest rates were. Most said between 6 and 9% (as their parents get .25% of their own savings).

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