Hypereducated poor people have not learned the lesson of self-sufficiency

by Grace

Even an advanced college degree does not guarantee a living wage, as explained in a recent Elle article about the “hypereducated poor”.

… The number of people with graduate degrees receiving food assistance or other forms of federal aid nearly tripled between 2007 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census. More specifically, 28 percent of food-stamp households were headed by a person with at least some college education in 2013, compared with 8 percent in 1980, according to an analysis by University of Kentucky economists….

It’s not just academics who are highly educated and downwardly mobile. Employment for recent law school graduates fell from 92 percent in 2007 to 84.5 percent in 2012, according to the National Association for Law Placement, and the average law student’s debt was about $100,000. Other professions that haven’t regained many of the jobs lost during the recession include architecture, market research, data processing, book publishing, human resources, and finance—all of which either require or tend to attract workers with a master’s degree.

The article profiled Brianne Bolin, who “thought her master’s degree in English would guarantee her at least a steady income”.

… An adjunct professor, she earns $4,350 a class, never more than $24,000 a year, she says. At the moment, she has $55 in the bank and $3,000 in credit card debt. She is a month behind on the $975 rent she pays for a two-bedroom house next to railroad tracks in a western Chicago suburb, where every 20 minutes a train screeches by. Her bookshelves are full of poetry and philosophy from grad school, she can recite poems from memory, and she collects French 1960s LPs, but she must rely on food stamps to feed herself and her son. And because her job doesn’t offer health insurance, they’re both enrolled in Medicaid, the state and federal health-care program for the poor. (Coverage for a child Finn’s age in Illinois caps at an income equaling 142 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $22,336.)

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Bolin, the English major, knows that’s a cliché, but she can’t help thinking it all the time….

“My dreams did this to me. It’s not a shameful thing, although I wonder if there is something wrong with me.”

Bolin’s story is poignant, but if she were more willing to take personal responsiblity for her predicament I might be able to summon up more sympathy.

“My dreams did this to me.”  That’s one way to put it.  Apparently her dreams compel her resistance to taking on a “mundane” job that pays the bills.  And her dreams compelled her to become a single parent at age 28 as “the result of a random hookup with a 20-year-old in a band she liked”.  Brolin’s education puts her far ahead of many other welfare recipients, but unfortunately she seems unable to push herself out of poverty.  Sadly, it appears there is no one in her life who can help her answer the question she has when she sees self-supporting families who can afford comfortable lives.

With twilight approaching, she points out an attractive dark-haired couple sitting with their toddler son on a bench, a fancy stroller parked next to them. “When I see couples who have jobs,” she says, “couples who look perfect, I want to ask them: ‘How did you do it?'”

———

Alissa Quart, “Hypereducated And On Welfare”, Elle, December 2, 2014.

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