With the planet’s population now at seven billion, and the American presidential election starting to focus on Republicans in Iowa, it’s easy to get discouraged about the state of the planet. As an educator, I am fortunate to spend a great deal of time with students who are unwilling to fall into the trap of hopelessness. Some are occupying Wall Street and others are focusing on developing a deeper understanding the management, policy and scientific issues needed to develop a sustainable planet. Some are doing both.
These students are working hard to learn and are sacrificing time and money in the process. Their goal is to contribute to making the world a better place and to do that they will need to find meaningful employment. They tend to reject blind consumerism and so they are not about accumulating treasure, but they need the security that comes from paid work. Fortunately the field of environmental sustainability is growing and most of our graduates are finding good jobs in this tough economy. But it is not easy. The job market is unstructured and difficult to navigate. We work with our students on networking and bringing alums and employers to campus, but no one has any faith in the job market until they get an offer or two.
There is another emotion attached to the optimism I see: a sense of apprehension, and a profound concern that getting a start in the professional world is getting more and more difficult. I admit that when I was the age of most of my students I was idiotically oblivious to the world of professional employment. I just assumed that when I wanted it, it would be there waiting for me. In contrast, today’s young people start plotting their career path in junior high school and select their extracurricular activities with an eye toward college applications. While I am not arguing for obliviousness, I worry deeply about the pervasive insecurity we are saddling young people with today.
The public policy solutions to this are obvious. We need to figure out a way to provide incentives for private job creation and we need to develop more public funded employment to build our communities. This includes infrastructure, education, scientific research, social services, community building and health care. And yes, it means our taxes must go up to fund these jobs. We are now part of a fast changing global economy that will require constant adjustments if we are to take full advantage of the talents of our people. It is not acceptable to passively acquiesce to what is starting to look like permanently high levels of unemployment.
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