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May 26, 2006

Advice to grads: Start at the top

Remember when Hillary Clinton lamented that today's young people think that work is a four letter word?

[Clinton] said that "young people today think work is a four-letter word" and "think they're entitled to go right to the top with $50,000 or $75,000 jobs when they have not done anything to earn their way up." The remarks certainly got tongue rings wagging all over the country. Senator Clinton's own daughter, Chelsea, who earns high pay while working long hours as a management consultant for McKinsey & Company, called to object that she and her friends work hard, indeed. Mom soon apologized. [NYT]

According to this rather depressing article in today's New York Times, young people can't expect to earn their way up, at least not within a given company. [NYT]

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Lucky enough to be good at writing software, a US citizen and entering the job market around 1975, I have not needed promotions or raises. I simply job hopped whenever my situation stagnated. I have had almost 20 different jobs, rarely been out of work, always done the part of the job I like: design a solution and code it. If you make any kind of reasonable estimation of the cost of turnover born by employers...the training time, the hiring cost and many other considerations that do have a cash cost, you'd have to allow at least $10k per lost/replaced employee. So my career has been good for ME but cost american businesses at least $200,000 of pure useless unrecoverable overhead. Probably much more [in a critical job where time has opportunity costs, and the competition is getting first mover advantages, millions may be the real but not easily quantified scale of the costs]. Wouldn't a couple years salary spent to train and promote me have been a bargain for them? Looks like they don't figure it that way.

If that bit from Chelsea is even true, I don't see what one has to do with each other. It can both be true that lots of students come out of college expecting really high-paying jobs *and* that the people who do land high-paying jobs right out of college work hard in them. I don't see Clinton as addressing kids who work at McKinsey, I see her as addressing kids who end up making $35k out of school working for the state and have a giant chip on their shoulder as a result because they can't eat out at every meal.

I see her as addressing kids who end up making $35k out of school working for the state and have a giant chip on their shoulder as a result because they can't eat out at every meal.

Try earning $35K and making rent and making student loan payments and if you live outside one of the major metro areas, making a car payment (if you do live in a major metro area, the rents are substantially higher). Most college-educated young people start their working life deep deep in debt, and many of them just don't see how they can get out. Chelsea is fortunate, not just in her connections, but because her parents are able to foot the entire bill for her education.

Karen, it's also true that kids who don't land high-paying jobs out of college work hard. It was offensive for Clinton to accuse all young people of being lazy. It was especially irritating for her to imply that bucking for the best possibly entry level job you can get is a sign of laziness, as opposed to a sign of ambition. She's out of touch with workplace realities. If you start in data-entry, you're not going to work your way up to the executive suite.

Clinton was wrong to generalize, bu people expecting to earn 75K right out of college had better have some _very_ valuable skills. Huge numbers of working stiffs are supporting families on 30-40K, budgeting their limited funds and managing to maintain good credit histories. And anybody who thinks they _deserve_ to live in a manner that couldn't possibly be made universal for 6+ billion neighbors is assuming a tremendous burden of proof, ethically speaking.

Democrat and Republican politicians agree: make common cause with the poor, by accusing the middle-class of being spoilt, while ignoring the dollars and sense of trying to make ends meet on what's called middle class money.

Or, in mathematical terms:

Where x=the fact that the middle class suffer defacto wage cuts from occasional but almost predictable layoffs, because there is no job security anymore:

Middle-class / (Rich + Poor) - x = happy ending for the rich

Try earning $35K and making rent and making student loan payments and if you live outside one of the major metro areas, making a car payment (if you do live in a major metro area, the rents are substantially higher).

Are you talking only about living in the nation's most expensive cities? Ok, sure, but deciding that there are only 4 or 5 cities one will live in is a luxury.

If you're talking generally... I'd be fascinated to see what sort of spending habits you think make living on $35K rough for an average 22-year-old. Is this a 22-year-old who refuses roommates? How often does this person eat out, buy new clothes, etc? I came out of college in 2001 with $44k in debt, a job with a $37k/year salary, shared an apartment with two others for $450/month, and had a car payment (Ford Focus). I had expensive nights out twice/week on average, and fairly cheap ones twice/week (making pasta for friends). Life was pretty good.

I say this not as a boostrap "I did it so can you" assertion -- I'm just genuinely curious as how my experience differed so much from others that a salary of $35K would be put forth as an example of hardship.

Ok, sure, but deciding that there are only 4 or 5 cities one will live in is a luxury.

Depends on what you do. If you want to be an accountant, or a nurse, then maybe it's a luxury. (Assuming you aren't just trying to live near your family and friends in a region where you were born and raised.)

Maybe it's a luxury to live in a greater urban area if your skills are in demand all over the country and you move to a metropolis (or its commutable suburbs) simply because you dig the lifestyle.

However, for a lot of ambitious young people, major cities are the places to be. Let's say you want to get ahead in advertising, publishing, corporate law, or any number of fields that people go to college for. (I'm not even addressing the career prospects of people who want careers in the fine arts, the humanities, or public service. Those people are practically required to go to a major city if they want work in their fields.)

It wasn't just offensive, but also oppressive. Regardless of how easy or how hard it is to live on $35,000 a year in the US, the fact of the matter is that Hillary Clinton's comment was no different from conservative slurs about how black people are lazy. At least conservatives have learned to speak in code in the last 35 years, since they couldn't say it outright.

Let this be a reminder for everyone who thinks that everything she says is focus-grouped. Her statement only makes sense within the bubble of rich folks with kids who went to "top" schools. But within that bubble - yes, kids expect those salaries from the start, and don't expect to work a ton. Because they're spoiled, spoiled, spoiled.

If politicians were actually authentic, they'd all talk like this. Next week: country club greens policies are outrageous!

I for one could live happily on $35,000 a year, if I could get it to last a whole year. I spent many, many years doing very well, and was never once without work for 15 years, until the bottom dropped out of the local economy five years ago. If I'd made $35,000 a year for each of those five years, I'd be very pleased.

I may be paranoid, but I still think it stings like class warfare against the middle class. It fits our times and our nation: during the decades from the 1840s through the 1940s, people feared revolts from the working classes. But now, at least in America, I don't think anyone seriously fears such a working class uprising. They won that battle here by the time of John Steinbeck. So, why not shift to ruining the middle class? Since there's no longer the danger of the working class developing political ambitions, the only danger to the pocketbooks of the rich are the middle class.

Rich people love to accuse the middle class of being spoiled, whining, complaining, as they offshore factories and positions to everywhere the hell on earth besides America. As always, let me make clear that I'm happy to see workers elsewhere better their lot; it is rather the precipitate, sudden ruination of the entire American middle class, with no provision for the impact on them, that worries me. I don't think Hillary is aiming her speech at the children of other rich people. But Hillary, how about me? After 23 years in the workforce, with glowing performance reviews, in a very, very tough industry or two, do I deserve that $50 or 75K?

Hey, I guess I _am_ complaining.

>with no provision for the impact on them,

No provision for ameliorating the impact on them, of course; they've certainly made provision for the impact.

Try earning $35K and making rent and making student loan payments and if you live outside one of the major metro areas, making a car payment (if you do live in a major metro area, the rents are substantially higher)

Try doing it on $24,000. I've been out of college for five years, and I still can't land a job that pays more than that. I send out resumes, I call back on them, and no one wants to speak to me. I graduated with high honors, so it's not like I was slacking in college. I work hard at the job I have, but don't seem to be making any headway (and there are other issues with my supervisor).

I would be thrilled to make $35,000. And yeah, I live in a large, East Coast city--it's where I grew up, where my family is, and where my job is. I could relocate to Nebraska, but why?

Of course, I was an English major, so some would say I should be glad I'm not homeless.

You know, this was brilliant on the part of Hillary - this way she really got to have it both ways. And why not?

And Mary, don't worry, thanks to Bush, you'll still be struggeling when you're my age. Sorry.

$50,000 is near the top? It depends on the industry, yes? Someone with a computer science degree starts up around $50,000, yes?

And, my god, why would a Democrat ever lament high wages? We need to replace people like Clinton and Liebermen with real Democrats.

That's not quite what the study says - it says that if you get employment during a slump, when salaries are low you will never catch up to peers that were hired when salaries were high. You can move ahead (raises, et al) when working at the same company, but you cannot recover income disparities while working for the same company.

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