My father, a very cosmopolitan and wise man, gave all his children access to as much education as each could assimilate, regardless of the child’s gender, the cost of the education, or how far flung the location of that knowledge was. And I, being a voracious reader, a sponge in an arid zone, and an eternal learner, an adventurer, could not get my fill of that well and wealth of knowledge; I still cannot.
I blazed through two degrees, and with bright eyes and a bushy tail, I sashayed back to Nigeria. I remember when I came back to the United States, having left Nigeria with a shredded heart from a new marriage and a speedily defunct one at that, pregnant with our daughter, how bleak things looked, but I had an accommodation. Thank goodness for the two wonderful people who helped me with that toothache of a problem. I came back with one hundred dollars to my name (not wishing to declare anything to the U.S. Customs), plus a couple of hundred dollars that I had loaned to a friend who came to Nigeria to visit. That was the extent of my wealth, and the friend was not paying back the debt quickly enough no matter how desperate I sounded or how much I tried to impress my needs upon him.
Getting back into the groove of things in Atlanta back then (after a three-year absence) was as impossible as trying to climb onto the back of a stubborn elephant that refused to lower itself. It was like doing so with the shortest ladder. I complained to my father about the prejudice, about not being given a chance once Americans heard the accent, and about every excuse I could muster. His unwavering line was, “My daughter, you have a solid education, a Master’s degree from a renowned American university. No one will ever take that away from you.”
I complained some more, and he felt the need to add, “You have an education. The jobs will always come. Be patient.” Those two grains of advice kept churning themselves over in my head. No matter how many rejections I received back then, I never gave up. I went back to school and obtained a teaching certificate on top of my Master’s degree, and no one was going to take either or all three away from me. I had a ladder to climb on to the back of that stubborn elephant, and I was going to make that elephant bend down to my level, to the height of my ladder. As God is my witness, I will climb that animal, even walk on its back, do cartwheels, and find creative ways of showing it who was the mistress. Not long after my father’s wise words, the jobs came, and I stood and dribbled the ball of choices on that elephant’s back, which company or school district to choose. My father was absolutely correct.
I had been working consistently for over two decades, never knowing what skin tone unemployment was born in, not knowing what odor it surrounded itself with, who unemployment was, and never bothering to make his or her acquaintance all those 20+ years until 2010. During those job-laden times, I held two jobs, not to make ends meet, but rather to afford the frilly things in a hardworking woman’s life. I held on tightly to my college-obtained job, but I quit those part-time jobs at the slightest distress, fatigue, or displeasure. Another part-time job was right around the bend. Education afforded me a life at the higher end of middle-class luxury. That it seemed to onlookers that I always seemed to struggle was because I loved frilly things too much, and I splurged intermittently. Ah, those were the days.
As Willy Wonka’s famous Golden Ticket, education procures access to limitless benefits and luxuries. Even the United Negro College Fund’s mantra, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” does not capture the full import of life without a college education. All through the two decades that I have raised Nigeria’s and the state of Georgia’s children who have come into my classroom, I have preached education, stressed it, demanded it, and impressed on those young minds the unimaginable reaches and riches of education and did hands-on activities to give them a taste of the life and the style a post-secondary education could purchase for them. My daughter was not spared. From infancy, she knew that education was the only choice, undisputed and unnegotiated.
Being a trained journalist, I always felt the need to balance my message. Therefore, I also stressed the horrors of a life without a college education unless the students had some “mad” skills of some sort that would catapult them over the threshold of poverty, scaling them cleanly over the bruising cuts of impoverishment and sacrificed wisdom. Even those who had the exceptional talents, I always advised them to get a degree regardless. Education would save them tremendously by endowing them with elevated problem-solving skills and refined logical finesse. It would cushion the hard fall from loss of million-dollar lifestyles (when those contracts stop coming) to a decent life rather than falling into the gaping hole of abject poverty like many fallen stars, from million-dollar lifestyles to minimum-wage ridicule.
Even as bad as things get now, those who have a college education and who refuse to give up, seem to have more options of finding jobs, of being self-employed, of devising avenues for self-actualization, of marketing and reinventing themselves, of returning to college to augment defunct skills or to earn more money by ascending to the next salary scale, of piecing together two temporary and/or part-time degreed jobs, and so on to keep the soul patched together. As employers get crafty and try to divide most of their full-time salaried jobs into several part-time positions, those with college education will still come out on top financially by doing the simple math of one-half job plus one-half job equals one (whole) full-time position.
Education is knocking down mercilessly those who knocked it down when things were good, especially the younger generation, those who snubbed it, who did not appreciate it, who did not stay in school to finish college, who refused to finish high school, who inadvertently are having to train their college-degreed replacements, and who chose not to grab the opportunities offered by that express gateway into Middle Class City. http://chronicle.com/article/International-Report/128955/?sid=gn&utm_source=gn&utm_medium=en
Recently, each time I scrolled through job-search websites, I found jobs listed, and I applied. I completed 30 application forms online in one month and mailed that many number in the same month for jobs that were supposedly vacant, and I called and spoke frequently with and/or e-mailed potential employers after I dispatched the applications and my resumes. I want to believe that there still are jobs, maybe very highly specialized now; I also want to believe that employers are not taking undue advantage of this job market crisis, but I know better, contrary to what the article cited in the link above states.
I am constantly overqualified but not hirable even for jobs at which I previously would have hissed loudly like a disturbed rattle snake at the impudence of the below-my-highest-income offerers and would have hissed even louder at the minimum-wage offerers. Some of them are audacious enough to ignore high school graduates, who were originally their only entry-level choices, and seek college graduates, to go after even Master’s degree holders (from my own personal experiences), dangling the carrots of managerial ascension by enticing them with menial jobs of salad makers or French-fries fryers and pittance pay, jobs for which college graduates previously would have held their sides and heads from the pains of unstoppable laughter and with tears of ridicule running down their faces.
The impertinence and bodaciousness of some fast-food restaurants and other minimum-wage employers have become the rule rather than the exception. Alas, there are few jobs to be had these days; humility has taught many college graduates to tuck in their proud tails between their legs, hang their heads like man’s best friend, and beg for the dregs of jobs; truly sad.
Each time I scroll through job-search websites, I find jobs listed, managerial jobs, and I apply. I have been both a manager and an assistant manager. I have an advanced degree. Few employers want to pay for that education and that amount of experience. I am three-fourths of the way toward retirement. Employers talk themselves out of very efficient employees like myself because they do not want to be saddled with my impending retirement costs. It is not that there are zero jobs; it is that more employers are doing more number crunching in attempts to keep most of their profits.
As much as I know that I will produce exceptional results for them should they deign to give me a chance, and even though I know that I am overqualified for some of their jobs, it comes down to dispensing as few dollars as possible for that position. Recent financial reports indicate that many corporations made a boatload of money this year, but they are refusing to hire. They are keeping their profits by refusing to hire while overworking their current labor force. (See the links below for profits reported by U.S. companies.)
Still, I feel under-qualified for other positions, those jobs out there in the higher academia websites that list only positions for professors, assistant professors, associate professors, deans, and doctoral degree holders, jobs for which I yearn but cannot get. I scroll through pages and pages of vacancies, thousands and tens of thousands of higher education jobs listed by states, and I cannot find one full-time position for a Master of Arts degree holder. To my chagrin, almost all of them demand a post-graduate degree, beyond the Master’s level, so I feel a continuous hunger, an insatiable, ulcer-causing hunger.
The good news is that I have never knocked education down. Therefore, it has never knocked me down. I always have been its best salesperson. Some cheapskate employers may hire only Bachelor’s degree holders (and reject post-graduate degree holders due to the higher salary they would garner) in an effort to “balance their budget” and jeer at holders of graduate degrees, but times will change; the wheels of fortune will turn; the tide will rise and flow smoothly again without the debris of fallen tree branches impeding its progress; the tide will flow again and abundantly at that. Those who hold college degrees, I say to you, do not despair. No one can take those away from you. The jobs will come. Like my very astute father said to me, and I say to you, “The jobs will come. Be patient.” Let’s ride out the bear market, so to say. The bull will come crashing through our doors with job offers and investment returns soon, and we will have money to replace those low-quality doors with better ones.
As hopeless as the current job situation seems, I do not feel complete or abject desperation or bleakness. For inexplicable reasons, hope lives abundantly in me because of my education, and I feel a job calling my name around the corner too loudly for me to ignore it, part-time or full-time. Faith is not squashed.
Those who have returned to college to buff their skills and polish them with coats of Sally Hansen’s No-chip Nail Hardener, I say to you, hang in there. I am joining you soon for that doctorate degree to help me go after those thousands of higher academia positions.
On a final note, may our nails not chip or break, and may they survive this traumatic period of gloveless dishwashing and hand-washed laundry!
–At the time of the publication of this article, this writer was offered an instructor position at a local university! Hope lives! Remember, “You have a college education. The job will always come. Be patient.”
U.S. companies and reported profits: