I spent quite a lot of time on the "We are the 99%" website last night and this morning. There's been a considerable amount of carping about it from the conservative side, and to be sure, some of the stories strain plausibility (the percentage of people in the sample who have either taken up prostitution, or claim to have seriously considered doing so, seems rather high, for instance, and as far as I could tell, not a single person on the site had been fired for cause). Many of the people complaining made all sorts of bad decisions about having children, getting very expensive "fun" degrees, and so forth.
But quibbling rather misses the point. These are people who are terrified, and their terror is easy to understand. Jobs are hard to come by, and while you might well argue that any of these individuals could find a job if they did something different, in aggregate, there are not enough job openings to absorb our legion of unemployed.
When the gap between the number of job openings and the number of people who are out of work is so large, there are going to be a hefty number of unemployed people. Maybe these people individually could have done more to get themselves out of their situation, but at the macro level, that would just have meant that someone else was out of work and suffering.
I think it's hard to read through this list of woes without feeling both sympathy, and a healthy dose of fear. Take all the pot shots you want at people who thought that a $100,000 BFA was supposed to guarantee them a great job--beneath the occasionally grating entitlement is the visceral terror of someone in a bad place who doesn't know what to do. Having found myself in the same place
ten years ago, I can't bring myself to sneer. No matter how inflated your expectations may have been, it is no joke to have your confidence that you can support yourself ripped away, and replaced with the horrifying realization that you don't really understand what the rules are. Yes, even if you have a nose ring.
I'm not sure that this constitutes the seeds of a political movement, however. For all the admiring talk about bravery and perseverance, it's not really al that difficult to get young, unemployed people to spend a couple of weeks camping out somewhere. They have a low cost of time, they're in no danger, and yes, I have to say it, demonstrating is fun. No, don't tut-tut me. I was at the ACT-UP die-ins, the pro-choice marches, the "Sleep Out for the Homeless" events and the "Take Back the Night" vigils. It's fun, especially when you can see yourself on television. This is not the Montgomery bus boycott we're talking about here.
So my question is, how does this coalesce into a broader platform? Does someone have a coherent, plausible answer for someone whose pricey liberal arts degree has not equipped them for a tough job market? And is it a coherent, plausible answer that they will believe? I don't think those kids in Zucotti park are waiting to hear about QE3 and the American Jobs Act.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
is a columnist at Bloomberg View
and a former senior editor at The Atlantic.
Her new book is The Up Side of Down