Poverty And How To Get There
November 28, 2016
It’s time to turn, once again, to the pages of Everyday Feminism, where Ms Hannah Brooks Olsen wants to educate us about “the real face of poverty” – specifically, Millennial poverty, as experienced by herself:
As a white, 22-year-old college graduate in a second-hand dress, I did not look like what we think of as “poor.” Of course, at that exact moment, I had, yes, a college degree and a coveted unpaid (because of course it was unpaid) internship at a public radio station. But I also had a minimum wage job to support myself, $17 in my bank account, $65,000 in debt to my name, and $800 in rent due in 24 days.
It’s not a happy tale. This is, after all, Everyday Feminism.
I was extremely hungry, worried about my utilities being shut off, and 100% planning to hit up the dumpster at the nearby Starbucks… I had no functional stove in my tiny apartment because the gas it took to make it work was, at $10 per month, too expensive.
Such, then, are the hardships of “Millennial college grads,” whose suffering, we’re told, often passes unremarked:
Through college debt, we are minting a new generation of people with fewer opportunities, rather than more. Even if you glossed right over the teachings of Thomas Piketty…
the teachings of Thomas Piketty
…you probably know that those who begin poor are more likely to stay poor… New grads no longer start from zero – they start with a negative balance.
Well, it’s generally the custom that loans have to be repaid. And so choosing a degree course, or choosing whether to take one at all, is a matter of some consequence. Such is adulthood.
Many college graduates are worse off than they would have been if they’d directly entered the workforce debt-free.
And so, as in many things, one should choose wisely. Ms Olsen goes on to ponder the woes of “Millennials of colour,” and the alleged “gender pay gap,” before wondering whether all university education should be “free” – which is to say, paid for by some other sucker. Say, those who would see no benefit in being forced to further subsidise the lifestyle choices of people who end up writing for Everyday Feminism.
And then, eventually, we come to the nub of it:
I grew up poor. I went to a university – something that neither of my parents did, through choice and circumstance and a systemic series of beliefs about who college is for – because I believed that that was the only way to be not-poor. I believed this because I was told it, by guidance counsellors, the media, and many adults. And yet, going to college made me more poor, at least in the years since I’ve graduated.
As noted previously, in response to another Everyday Feminism contributor, the lifetime return on many degrees is very often negative, typically those in Angry Studies and the arts and humanities. It turns out that the market is still not crying out for even more literary theorists or twenty-something denouncers of neoliberal patriarchy. Shocking, I know, but there we are. And so there’s something to be said for practicality, especially if your background is a modest one. Social mobility – the journey from poor to “not-poor” - presupposes a certain realism, a pragmatism, and making choices accordingly – including with regard to the costs and benefits of tertiary education, which is for most an expensive one-time opportunity.
However, Ms Olsen insists,
This is not about a lack of fiscal responsibility.
Our unhappy feminist goes on to stress that she and those like her should not be chided for “their perceived poor decisions,” which, she says, doesn’t “actually address the problem.” As if the issue at hand – being insufficiently alluring to employers in glamorous and lucrative lines of work - had no obvious connection with any decisions on her part. What passes unmentioned in the article is that Ms Olsen’s degree, the one that left her poking about in dumpsters and $65,000 in debt – twice the US student average - is in English literature and rhetoric. Not, perhaps, the most practical use of time and other people’s money. It may, however, explain why the author describes herself as “a white person who tends to gravitate toward post-modernism.” (During her years at Western Washington University, Ms Olsen was, of course, involved in the campus Women’s Centre, which boasts of being “empowering,” albeit in ways that aren’t entirely clear, as in the case above.)
When not informing the world of her preferred pronouns, and describing herself as a “political troublemaker” determined to “catalyse significant social change,” or writing about “social justice issues,” and about how unfair her life is, Ms Olsen also offers “personal guidance” via the medium of Tarot card readings.
Update, via the comments:
Ms Olsen doesn’t make explicit exactly what kind of career she was expecting to breeze into, armed with an urge to “catalyse significant social change” and her $65,000 degree in English literature and rhetoric. It does, however, seem reasonable to suppose that it was something involving writing and leftist activism. Given the rapid and widely acknowledged decline of journalism as a viable full-time occupation, especially leftist journalism, this seems a tad optimistic.
Such unworldliness reminded me of Mr Amien Essif, a kindred spirit and fellow would-be Bringer Of Light. Mr Essif conceded that his chosen line of work was no longer entirely viable, due to a chronic shortage of paying customers, or indeed public interest, and was likely to get worse. He nonetheless felt entitled to coerced public subsidy of his written output. You see, the taxpayer must be forced to “subsidise creativity” – i.e., his creativity - because apparently there just aren’t enough leftwing graduates already writing about “consumerism, gentrification and hegemony.”
For those with time to kill and some morbid curiosity, Ms Olsen’s twitter feed is quite revealing, albeit in ways you’d probably expect. There’s the obligatory chippy, sour tone, a disdain for both debate and practical advice, and some ostentatious grizzling about the word “hysteria” and how it’s “uniquely gendered” and therefore impermissible. All peppered with pronouncements that are faintly hysterical. It isn’t clear to me how Ms Olsen’s online presence, this snapshot of her personality, would entice potential employers, at least from outside of her immediate peer bubble. In the wider world, describing yourself, on LinkedIn, as a “political troublemaker” may not be wholly alluring to people looking for reliable staff.
Readers may wish to consider the extent to which this captious disposition is a result of the disappointment that seems likely to follow years of cossetted self-flattery in academia’s Clown Quarter. And being led to believe, by left-leaning educators, that, like them, you should be in the vanguard of some social and political transformation – a “change agent,” to borrow the jargon – and then finding yourself unemployed, and practically unemployable, precisely because of the vanities you’ve so eagerly internalised.