Capitalism Failed Our Generation

By Mike Tudoreanu

Are you one of the many new first year students at the University of Massachusetts, or another college in the Pioneer Valley? If so, welcome!

There is something I need to tell you, something college presidents do not want you to read: When they say that college is a fast track to success, and that it will lead you to an exciting, meaningful, and well-paying career … they are not telling you the truth anymore.

In fact, we are part of the generation of college graduates with the worst career prospects since World War II. As of April this year, 53 percent of recent college graduates were either working in a job that doesn’t require a college degree, or had no job at all. One study from 2011 indicates that 85 percent of new college graduates are now moving back in with their parents. To top it all off, many of us can expect to be making less money than our parents did after they graduated. Then, of course, there is also student debt, which recently hit a staggering $1 trillion. If you thought government debt was a problem, have a look at private debt.

Of course, the economic crisis is partly to blame for this bleak situation. There are fewer jobs to go around, so naturally the better jobs will go to the people with more experience. That leaves recent college graduates with fewer options and fewer opportunities to gain experience, meaning that a lot of us may well end up being stuck in jobs completely unrelated to our college studies.

This election season, we’ve heard a lot of talk from the candidates about how they are going to create jobs. But this is only in the private sector, since being a government employee – like a teacher, or firefighter, or postal worker – apparently doesn’t count.

President Barack Obama, the candidate elected for hope and change, doesn’t want to change anything. Romney wants to boldly go back to the 1920s, by cutting taxes for the rich even further (they currently stand at their second-lowest level since the Great Depression), removing regulations from Wall Street (which was the main reason for the crisis in the first place), busting unions (who are at their weakest point since the 1930s) and firing public sector employees (more than have already been fired under Obama).

But there is something else that both candidates are missing, besides a good plan to fix the economy: they do not acknowledge the fact that all of our current economic problems have been in the making for decades.

For instance, when I said that many of us will be making less money than our parents; that was based on a study from 2007 – one year before the recession hit. Now our prospects are probably even worse. And the fact that college graduates increasingly have to take bad jobs is a long-term trend.

A recent report has found that the last few decades saw a massive surge of bad jobs in the United States economy. And they define a “bad job” very precisely: it means a job that pays less than $37,000 per year, adjusted for inflation, and which lacks employer-provided health insurance and has no employer-sponsored retirement plan.

In 1979, one in six jobs were considered “bad;” today, that number has risen to one in four. In other words, workers have been steadily losing health insurance coverage and retirement benefits, and it’s getting harder to find good-paying jobs.

Health insurance is getting worse, with less coverage and more out-of-pocket expenses in your typical plan. This means that even those workers whose income has risen over the last couple of decades haven’t seen much improvement in their living standards, as the rise in income is being canceled out by rising health costs (and rising college tuition, for that matter). All of this started to happen long before the recession hit, and no one seems to be in any hurry to address it.

Obama and Romney promise jobs. Oh yes, the private sector will create jobs all right. Jobs at McDonald’s and Wal-Mart, and jobs for teachers at charter schools that barely pay above minimum wage; jobs waiting tables and running the cash register.

Part-time jobs, jobs with no benefits and no prospects for a raise or a promotion, jobs designed to burn you out in a few months and then replace you with fresh blood. Jobs with such low wages that you will still be paying back college loans well into your 50s. Those are the jobs of the future.

Unless, that is, we do something about it. The economic crisis is just a symptom of a larger problem. For a long time now, capitalism has been making average people’s lives worse, not better. We are not better off than we were four years ago, and we are not better off than we were 10 years ago, either. Sure, we have all sorts of fancy new gadgets and toys to distract us, but when it comes to the important things – a good job, health care, secure retirement, affordable rent or mortgages – we are doing worse and worse.

This continues to happen under both Democrats and Republicans. It is capitalism that is failing, not this or that government policy.

And as Gary Lapon points out on, the only solution is for workers to stand up and demand what is rightfully theirs. We need to rebuild the labor movement and the unions, and then challenge the two-party system.

There are labor struggles starting up everywhere, from Spain to South Africa to the Chicago teachers’ strike. Here, at UMass, the International Socialist Organization is hosting a public meeting next Monday in the Campus Center at 6:30 p.m. to talk about capitalism, socialism, and the future.

With the budget cuts and tuition hikes hitting us every year, we need to organize and fight back just as much as students and workers elsewhere.

Mike Tudoreanu is a Collegian Columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]