Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Unintentional Message (and Lesson) of "The Internship"

Over the weekend I saw the Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson movie " The Internship" (trailer shown above) Vaughn (Billy) and Wilson (Nick) played two veteran watch salesmen who had lost their jobs in part because people don't wear watches anymore, but simply check their cell phones to determine the time. Billy ultimately lands two internships at Google for both himself and Nick where they were placed in a group with other (much younger) interns who were still in college.

During one scene, this group of interns discuss their concerns of finding a job after college. One of the college-aged interns said to Billy and Nick (paraphrasing), " You could achieve the American Dream. The American Dream isn't the same for us. It isn't guaranteed". I found this line intriguing.  It is clear that this movie takes place in the present day. Thus, Hollywood and Google are essentially admitting that the Obama administration has not created confidence for young millennials seeking jobs after college. Hollywood, of course, is notorious for being quite Left in their political ideology. Also, Google is very tight with the Obama administration. Yet, both Hollywood and Google--whether intentionally or not--indicated that liberal ideology (and hope and change) have not lived up to the expectation of millennials. There are two key issues to consider when looking at the economic hope of those in their late teens to mid twenties--1) their educational choices 2) their means of funding their education.

The group of millennials depicted in the movie would likely enter the technology field, a field where there are more opportunities for jobs than other fields. However, some students are choosing fields that are not particularly employable. This, plus a sustained poor economy, has contributed to 48% of those with a college degree working in a job that does not require such education. This is not to say that people should forgo college, but the liberal ideal of universal college education is wrong. A high school graduate with a strong work ethic should not be frowned upon, nor should a high school graduate who seeks training at a technical school. In fact, likely due in part to our culture's emphasis on intellectual output over tangible output, skilled trades like carpentry and car mechanics are among the ten hardest jobs to fill in America.. As a researcher in academia, I certainly don't want to downplay intellectual output, but our society needs a myriad of outputs to continue to be the strongest nation in the world. As Governor Palin wrote in a post earlier this Spring:
It’s crucially important today for young people to think about the big picture when making education decisions. And the big picture is the goal of self-reliant business opportunities based on work ethic and not entitlements. One of the reasons I aggressively encouraged vocational training opportunities as governor of Alaska is because they lead to good paying jobs and happy careers. Young people should not be pressured into assuming that a college degree is the only path to employment today. It’s not. Some college degrees obviously lead to clear professions, like those in the medical and engineering fields, but that’s not the case with many of the liberal arts degrees young people today gravitate toward either because they aren’t sure what they want to do after college or because they’ve been led to believe that college life is a sort of rite of passage for any career. That might have been the case once, but the salary and career opportunities a liberal arts education alone can get you have been dramatically limited these days. It’s so sad to see young people holding expensive college diplomas that come with no practical job opportunities. 
Follow your dreams, by all means. But don’t be blind to the fact that your dreams might be achieved outside of acquiring an outrageously expensive traditional college degree. Do not be lulled into thinking that good jobs grow on trees or that the government will somehow take care of you. The bottom line is – as my dad always told me – find out what you love to do, then find out how to make a living doing it. Learning a trade can do both. No one can take those vo-tech real life skills away from you.
It's not only the choice of educational training that makes the difference; it is also how you fund it. For all the flack Governor Palin received for taking five years to graduate from college and for changing schools multiple times, she did something few people do--graduated from college with no debt. The governmental subsidization of education has lead to public higher education costs to increase 250% since 1982, which makes it harder for college to be affordable. However, it is still achievable. Some students are fortunate enough to have parents who fund their entire education. Some are able to obtain scholarship to assist them, and some work during college and summer breaks to pay for college and/or help mitigate the need for student loans.

Student loans, like any other construct with government intervention, have become a political football. In 2010, nearly concurrently with the passage of Obamacare, President Obama signed a student loan overall that wiped out fees paid to banks who act as intermediaries in administering student loans (i.e. the federal government took over the student loan industry). President Obama noted at the time (emphasis added):
Mr. Obama portrayed the overhaul of the student loan program as a triumph over an “army of lobbyists,” singling out Sallie Mae, the nation’s largest student lender, which he said spent $3 million on lobbying to stop the changes. “For almost two decades, we’ve been trying to fix a sweetheart deal in federal law that essentially gave billions of dollars to banks,” he said. The money, he said, “was spent padding student lenders’ pockets.
Things haven't changed since the three plus years after the bill took effect. The student lenders' pockets are still being padded, but now those pockets are Uncle Sam's pockets. In fiscal year 2013 alone, the federal government will reap $51 billion in "profit" from these student loan borrowers. This profit is greater than that of Exxon Mobil or Apple.

As was the case last year, student loan rates are set to double on July 1st, thus perpetuating the political game between Congressional Republicans and the Obama administration. The House has passed a bill that would make loan rates fluctuate based upon market rates, while the Obama administration wants rates fixed (i.e. controlled by the government). Politicians continue to use students as a political football, and the Department of Education is reaping the benefits. Students need to make smart choices in their education, but the government must stop trying to "fix" things only to pad their own pockets.

There is every reason for hope for millennials, and I say this as someone who is on the "old" end of that generation. America is rife with opportunity if people are willing to work hard enough, be rational, and plan ahead. Abraham Lincoln, one of our most famed presidents, did not have a college degree, but he had wisdom--and an ax. Lincoln is quoted as saying, " if I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend six hours sharpening my ax”. He prepared for the goal ahead of him, and he was efficient. Millennials can act in the same manner by making wise decisions with educational, occupational, and financial choices. The American Dream is still achievable, in spite of a government that acts as a barrier. Crossposted here and here.

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