There is much hoopla at the moment about the decline of the American middle class. I know all about it, since I have been close, but not quite managed to grab one of those hallowed academic jobs which would make my life finally comfortable after years of deprivation. The numbers in the faculty are getting worse by the year; when I began graduate school in the late 90s, about 75 percent of all teaching was still done by full-time faculty, with benefits, but by the time I was a serious contender on the job market, in 2008, this had shifted to 75 percent part-timers. Now, only 20 percent of teaching at U.S. colleges and universities is done by full-time faculty. The profession has literally disintegrated out from under me. We were told by our professors: hey, the baby boomers are about to retire, so now’s a great time to be on the job market! As it turned out, the MBA-efficiency people had figured out that they could downsize everything, and pay everyone virtually nothing, for the same work. Great idea, right! Except that the U.S. professoriate has been gutted; there are many geniuses with Harvard PhDs now waiting years to get a tenure-track job, if ever.
The real issue here is the disentegration of the American middle class. It is now far harder to become a professor, something like 4-5x harder, than 20 years ago; so that the Chronicle of Higher Ed is running ads saying “Don’t to go graduate school.” And the example of the professoriate is typical of a number of other former ‘professions.’ Most of the writing, editing, architecture, creative design, journalism, etc., fields, in which there used to be an ok number of permanent jobs with benefits available, have been similarly gutted. Same with teaching high school or even elementary school. Often the only places hiring are inner-city schools where there is no teaching to be done, but one has to be more of a warden than a teacher, and one is literally in danger of one’s life! Hardly a middle-class lifestyle. How many business people go into work fearing that their colleagues may pull out a gun… teachers have to put up with way too much stress, especially urban teachers. And elementary schools on ‘lockdown’ all the time, because the stupid arse NRA has so much leverage, and has convinced half the populace that they will be safer when packing a pistol? What is that, the wild west? In England, almost no one has guns, and somehow, they don’t shoot each other. In the wild west, everyone had guns, and they all shot each other. The logic there is pretty plain.
So, the main point being, that many avenues into the middle class which were once mainstays of the populace, are now closed. Being a professor is not possible, being a teacher is not possible. Being an office person is about the only career path left. And yet downsizing has made this much much more stressful than ever before. Now, to keep a job, you have to literally work 70 hour weeks? And get ulcers and the like? Doing what? Often, incredibly meaningless, tedious work, for no reasonable purpose. (more…)