A common pf blog (and news article) meme is the admonition not to go into huge debt for a college degree.. is it worth it? Obviously it makes no sense to come out from a BA with 6 figure debt. But there’s some amount of debt that it’s worthwhile to take on for the better earnings power. Liz Pulliam Weston suggests one year’s expected salary in your major field from your school and that seems to be a good heuristic to me (YMMV).
The folks for whom this should be the biggest concern are those from low income families– they don’t have as much of that family safety net to fall back on. But, so long as the parents are willing to fill out a FAFSA, the students in question should be able to get financial grants conditional on being accepted to school. School may not be as expensive as anticipated, and indeed, there’s an excellent study that’s been done by a handful of famous economists working with H&R Block that finds that helping parents fill out the FAFSA when they put in their tax returns dramatically increases college participation.
For all the discussion of a how a university degree isn’t worth it, the sordid world of jobs that don’t require more than high school degrees is beyond belief, especially since union power is declining, and companies are even getting around unions by using unprotected contract labor.
My partner’s large extended family mostly lives in a small town and has a wide range among educational and income spectrums. We hear a lot about what can happen in jobs for the less educated. The kinds of jobs that many of us took in high school but some people need as adults. Here’s some snippets from the family that convince me how much nicer life is with a college degree:
Had worked at the video store for 3 years, manager decided to replace her with one of his friends. No notice given, no two weeks pay, just, tomorrow you’re gone.
Fired the first week on the job because the daughter of the manager wasn’t working, she told the daughter to work, and the daughter told her mom some sort of lie, and the mom believed her daughter.
Worked as a waitress, a competitor tried to hire her, she said no. Then the competitor bought the bar where she had been working at and laid her off.
Hurt his hand off working hours. Didn’t have insurance. Got fired because he couldn’t work. Went bankrupt because medical bills + no income.
Can’t get a job at the Dollar Store or Walmart because when you don’t have education, they check your credit, and your credit isn’t great. (Not all folks have poor credit, but for jobs requiring more education, they are less likely to run a credit check on you.)
Contrast this with the kinds of jobs my college and higher degree educated friends have– they always get at least 2 weeks notice, they almost always get some kind of severance package. If they’re let go they’re generally laid off; it’s more difficult to get flat-out fired. There’s generally a lot of notice about what’s happening, and sometimes they get furloughs instead of lay-offs. We tend to complain about not getting raises, not about being fired with no notice for no good reason. The cost of our benefits keeps going up, but we have benefits! If we get hurt we’re insured.
When you’re in one of these marginal labor markets, there’s less job security, there’s less fairness. Even when you’re protected by law, the company is more likely to ignore the law, because what can you do? Especially when it’s a your word vs. someone else’s word situation. Education makes you more powerful, it allows you entree into labor markets where this kind of treatment is less prevalent.
Do you know anybody in the low-wage job market?