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I spent most of my formative years in the nurturing cocoon of the Clinton administration. I was vaguely aware of Bush 41, but the first president I chose (in my head) was Clinton, so he was really my president. I didn’t really know what war was. I had heard of the first Gulf War, but it seemed less a war, more a way to keep a madman at bay. I knew something of Bosnia and Serbia, but these were minor engagements (especially compared to what we’re involved in now). All I was aware of was economic excess and of prosperity. I assumed that everything always came easily, not necessarily without work, but without worry. I realize now that I was wrong to assume. This is not to say Bush 43 is entirely at fault, or that Clinton is blameless. There were mistakes being made everywhere, on Capitol Hill, on Wall Street, in banks, and in our own living rooms. Now the fruits have been borne from our mindless sins of ignorance.
I was talking to a sixth grader I tutor yesterday and we ended up discussing various things. At one point, she asked me about medicine and how long it takes to become a doctor. I laughed and went through the whole spiel. I told her that if she doesn’t take any breaks in between, she’ll probably be in her late twenties by the time she starts working. It was the truth; the road to becoming a doctor is a long, winding, pothole-ridden road. She sighed before declaring the world was probably going to end before then. I was taken a little aback by her pointedly frank pessimism, especially given her age. Pessimism wasn’t supposed to kick in until at least the angst-ridden teen years. Yet as I thought about it more, I realized she was right to assume, and right to worry. We have become conditioned to fear.
I’m not saying the world is going to end. Obviously that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that the smooth sailing we have had for the last decade or so has come to an end in the most unceremonious and clumsy fashion possible. Gone are the times when wide-eyed, college graduates can expect a job waiting for them within months after their graduation, followed by buying their first home, setting up their children’s trust fund, and letting their 401(k)s bloat with money. Employers no longer are waiting at the end of the college road with open arms and a fat paycheck. Instead we are seeing college grads moving back with their parents, as they wait and wait for employers to come calling. Over 2.6 million jobs were lost in 2008, and the number continues to grow. As the economy shrinks, states are now cutting spending in places that could have drastic consequences (like Paterson cutting hospital spending in New York State in a time where healthcare is suffering). Again I used to assume that doctors were at least a little immune to economic crises; after all, there’s always a need for doctors right? Yet when hospitals can’t afford to take on new doctors, and when people can’t afford to get healthcare, even doctors are finding it difficult to find work. There is no real certainty in the current economic climate, and the possible ramifications are frightening.
As I was buying my ticket to Penn Station from my home station, I saw a man who asked me for a buck or two towards a train ticket. This wasn’t your typical bum though, and this wasn’t the city. This was Long Island. He looked like any other Joe Schmo who lived on Long Island. Maybe I’m naive to have even entertained the idea that Long Island was somehow, immune, from the economic downturn. I can’t help but think that the number of people booted onto the streets will increase as the economy continues to sink.
Many of you must be reading this and thinking, “She is such a pessimist” and “This is so depressing.” It’s the truth. No one wants to envision a world where we have to be fearful for our livelihood as well as for our lives. Certainly we don’t want that for ourselves, and we definitely don’t want that for our children. We want our children to know that they can do anything they want, with little worry, assuming they put in the effort. Yet it’s something to keep in the back of your mind. To continue assuming that everything is perfectly peachy is a sign of sure insanity.
Yet to those that say, “Why bother doing anything if we’re just destined for a rough road to employment in the end?” the point is not to give up, the point is to work harder. Employers (presumably) will favor the more qualified candidates over the guy or girl who just scraped through with a bachelors degree. Go for the unpaid internships to get your foot in the door. Network as much as you can, a resume and transcript can only tell so much about a person. Do whatever you can, short of stepping on another guy’s toes.
We’ll have to make some changes to the way we conduct our lives now. We can’t continue the same wasteful practices that landed us here in the first place. We can’t allow the market to operate of its own volition. We need strict regulations to rein everything back to some sort of stable state. It’s important to note that all situations are temporary, good times, and bad. I’m just hoping that, for the time being, the stimulus plan passed by Congress will have its intended effect sooner rather than later.
Until then, we have to work hard and stay positive. This, too, shall pass.