A reader writes:
I disagree completely with you and Packer. Yes, as a person-under-thirty I came of age politically under the nightmare of Bush and I campaigned vigorously and voted for Obama. Having graduated in June 2008 I had the luxury of being able to do so while in college; with November just a few months after, and his victory more or less a foregone conclusion at that point (barring a brief scare with Palin-mania), it was easy to be passionate about a host of issues and the man himself.
But I’ve only had five cumulative months of employment since, this in spite of a “practical” degree (economics) from a “good” school (East Coast whatever - if my situation is any indication, an Ivy degree doesn’t mean jackshit). Friends of mine with relatively less worldly degrees in many cases have not been able to find a job at all in over a year. And it is not that we’re just sitting on our asses, playing video games because we think we’re above a certain kind of work - this high-handed claptrap is perhaps the most irritating snobbery of so-called “experts”, of a piece with their stellar market analysis over the last decade. No, when we say we can’t get a job, we mean we can’t get any job.
Certainly white-collar jobs, those that we thought we were being prepared for, are so few and far between that they’ve become the stuff of lore, a mythical entity. When someone manages to snag one of those these days it’s treated like a fucking miracle, complete with celebration and deepest envy both. This just for a job! Not two years ago a job was practically a birthright, plentiful and in season; now it’s something to forage and kill for. But we’re having to compete now for jobs that anyone can do - which makes it that much harder to get them as well. Temp agencies mostly turn us away. Shit, even the damned Safeway near me isn’t hiring. I’m perfectly content to bag groceries or wash cars or do construction, but there isn’t a scrap of work to be had.
If all that sounds unbelievable, then you just don’t know what it’s like right now for young, inexperienced people whose first taste of the labor market has been one of closed doors and pounded pavement and steadily increasing panic. At the moment I do have a part-time temp job and I’m grateful for it, but I don’t know how long it’ll last. Every time a superior passes my desk I quake because he or she could be coming to give me the axe - this is how we fortunate employed spend our days, adrenaline-riddled and constantly on tenterhooks. I don’t have health insurance. I’m engulfed in student loans.
Please believe that this is genuinely not whining (nor a solicitation): I’m young, have no mortgage weighing on my head or family to support, and my parents help me out as much as they can. It is, however, to state that if we seem to have lost our enthusiasm for Obama, seem not to care about the wars and the gays and the climate, it’s not because of Obama. We know our employment lot isn’t his fault; we know - and trust me, we’re not nearly as naive as some may think; starry-eyed as we were, most of us were just happy to be happy, thankful that we could indulge in other emotions besides the despair and outrage and contempt that were all that we knew - we know real change is hard; and we know that things are going about as well as could be expected. But when you’re ceaselessly, never-endingly worried about your checking account falling into double digits it’s hard to get exercised about any issue apart from unemployment rising into same.