Not the “New Normal”

13 May

My good friend The Farlang Lady recently shared an article by Claire Thompson on the Millennial generation. It was fascinating and extraordinarily educational. As a gainfully employed Millennial, the 180 character snapshot of a Millennial doesn’t always relate: underpaid, saddled with student debt, naively optimistic. (Okay maybe that last one does apply).

My self-educational clicking away led to this gem! Someone Bids $13,000 for Huffington Post Internship

The most salient quote to me is

The auction’s beneficiary, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, seems exceptionally worthy. But are unemployed media wannabes really this worthless?

I’ve been reading and discussing, lately, the stories of the unpaid, under-paid, over-qualified, or paid & overworked. All making me wonder what should the relationship between a company and employee be? Maybe this is the response. The cause could be worthwhile, the experience, even the company’s intentions, but even so (and especially when not s0) are today’s youth really that worthless that their time does not need to be paid for? Are people so worthless that federal minimum wage is only $7.25 an hour?

I suppose its emotionally manipulative and existentially questionable to equate income with self-worth. And as an individual  (the recipient of either a piss poor paycheck or bucket loads of money) I do not recommend equating the too. But from the perspective of an employer isn’t that exactly what a paycheck is? Stock prices are meant to be a representation of a company’s worth. It logical to suggest that an employee’s income, therefore, represents his or her worth to the employer.

So when a friend worked 65+ hours a week doing highly specialized work for $15/hour, only there was no overtime so really it amounted to $9.23 and hour. Then we subtract taxes, rent, and groceries and student loan interests…what does it suggest about how her employer values her time and effort? Simultaneously when another friend is told at the beginning of a new project as a strategic management consultant that they will try to get them out before midnight Mon-Wed, all of a sudden her otherwise healthy paycheck amounts to $18/hour.  That is more than enough for her to live off, especially when you consider that the company pays for a lot of food and transportation expenses. But what does it mean about how an employer values an employee? Is it actually a true reflection of what they’re worth as a resource? OR is it a reflection of the market doing what the market does best, which is not correctly evaluate assets but find opportunities to exploit the delta between the going price (these days not much for a college degree) and what its true or potential worth is.

My argument is that the un/under employed liberal arts major and the paid but overworked business or engineering major are different sides of the same coin. In both scenarios  individuals adjust and makes it work.

Can’t afford to fix my car? Fine, I’ll use my bike more.
Have to work 80+ hours a week for a few months? Fine, I’ll adjust. Thanks for giving me the heads up.

But does that make it okay? Personally I always thought, “I don’t want to work the 60+ hour work weeks. I value balance and the weekends. But hey, if you Mr. I-banker friend want to, well power to you.” At what point does a bunch of youth making individual trade-offs (art majors choosing to take the risky and possibly less lucrative career path of photography) become emblematic of societal shift that needs correcting?

When it’s no longer a real choice.

In the face of increasing cost of tuition and corresponding burden of student debt, unemployment in the double digits for Millenials, the ever expanding workday, and rising cost of living including cost of health care, the prevailing advice is to compromise. Get a degree in the STEM majors: science, technology, engineering or math or adjust your work-life balance expectations or (as I have been told on more than one occasion) leave. Just because we can make it work in the short-term doesn’t mean that this is an okay path to be headed down in the long-term.  This is NOT the “new normal.”


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