Since the idea that the American Dream is dead for college graduates arose, I have contended that it was a load of hooey. Today in the Raleigh News and Observer an article which I can precisely debunk with my own life story. In the article, a recent graduate turns down a $40,000 claims adjuster job as a dead-end job and meanwhile sends out four or five resumes a week while living off his parents.
When I graduated in 1996 I couldn't get the claims adjuster job. I had a degree in "would you like fries with that" and no business experience. I sent out 500 resumes without a bite (that would be five boxes of resume paper that I couldn't afford) and started working as a substitute school teacher. The only on-campus corporate interview I got was for that claims adjuster job. I put on my one suit and my hose and a girdle I had bought just for the occasion. The interviewer spent our time together picking at her skirt where the hem was dropping out and at the end of the interview told me she couldn't hire me because I didn't seem to know where I was going with my life.
Where I went was a used mobile home and a $275 a month lot rent. The young man in the article who turned down the job? His parents are putting him up in a $1,000 a month half-apartment. I finally took the only job I could get, which was selling car insurance for minimum wage with the promise of a commission if I got my license.
I am now what I would call fairly successful. Against any expectations that I had, I have a "career". I just recently decided to move up to a $1,000 a month mortgage, though by scrupulous additional payment I've been able to knock it back down under $1,000. In the article, the father of the young man tells how it is done: "You maneuvered, and you did not worry what the maneuvering would lead to. You knew it would lead to something good."
My fifth job after college was the one that started my career. Each one before that was a blind maneuver- a little more skill development, a little more responsibility and opportunity, a little more money. What those first four jobs gave me was an opportunity to not starve while I did evening study programs. These were not classes, not certificates or degrees, just basic skills to turn me into a reasonably competent office worker.
Those jobs also gave me motivation. I didn't think I was chasing the American Dream; my goal was to get away from the poverty I saw in the trailer park and from the worry of not being able to pay the bill at the bottom of the stack. The parents of this young man have taken away even his motivation to take a $40,000 job in the Great Recession where 37% of people his age have no job at all. Emasculation is not too strong of a word for it, and it's emasculation of their own line. In other words, they have helped him throw away their own American Dream.