February 04, 2004

Bad Example

Yeah, this economic recovery still ain't generatin' any jobs. Even then, the jobs that are being created are usually the infamous McJobs or WalJobs that don't pay as well as the jobs that were lost. Salon jumps on the bandwagon with their own spin on the phenomenon, with plenty of anecdotal evidence. Unfortunately, not all of their exemplars lend themselves to sympathy.

Mark and Jannie Brewer, a couple of 39-year-old out-of-work programmers from near Phoenix, can't wait around anymore. The couple have given up their three-bedroom house with a swimming pool on a golf course and their two Mercedes, filed for personal bankruptcy and moved to Hawaii to live the downshifted life of a couple of minimum-wage beach dwellers.

Um guys, if you're trying to cut down on the cost of living, the islands are the last place you wanna be. Hawaii prices made me blanch even after living in California for so long. And what's the deal with three bedrooms when you don't even have kids? Let's not even get started on how the payments on two Mercedes might relate to the bankruptcy.

Between the two of them, the couple owe $75,000 in student loans from their years of technical training at DeVry University, which they now consider useless. To return to work in the technology sector, Mark says they'd need to update their skills yet again to the "latest and greatest," which would mean $5,000 or $6,000 more for classes -- money they don't have. Besides, the couple now believe that, given the double whammy of the offshoring of U.S. technology jobs and the use of foreign workers visiting the U.S. on H1-B visas, they simply can't compete.

Oh, I'd say you can't compete, but it ain't got nothing to do with any damn foreigners. So they thought a couple of years at DeVry was going to set them up for a life of fancy cars and golf-course mansions? The student loans don't make those Mercedes look like a good idea either, and how much do you want to bet that the credit cards were maxed out, too?

Sure, people like that are easy targets for the uneducated Slashdot yahoos to decry as people who deserved to be weeded out because they weren't real geeks. Of course, I could say that anyone who didn't get their education from a small, private, top-5 university deserves to have his job exported to Asia, but that would be unfair and elitist, not that's ever stopped anybody from looking down on others.

The Brewers have been through too much on the downside to try to climb back up to the upper-middle-class lifestyle they enjoyed while writing code for upward of $50 an hour: "We look back on it now, and it's so hilarious to see what we've been through," says Janine. "We would never go back to technology."

Technology probably doesn't want you back, either. Unfortunately, these folks give the free-marketers an easy strawman target, overshadowing some real victims.

"I am one of the many middle-aged people who has just been thrown out. No one will hire you," says the mother of three boys, ages 9, 13 and 15.

The 5-foot-3, small-boned woman is now working as a courier, slinging packages that weigh as much as 65 pounds.

"I'm not a gym person with muscles, so I have to use my back," says Chau, who delivers packages in the San Diego area in a Subaru with 95,000 miles on the odometer, bald tires and shot brakes.

After losing her programming job, she tried to retrain. She heard a radio ad seeking math teachers, and spent $13,000 getting a math teaching credential, since she holds a bachelor's degree in math from the University of Oregon. But it would cost money she now doesn't have to complete her student teaching requirements, and California's budget cuts mean that the demand for new teachers has evaporated. "There's no jobs, and I can't come up with $3,500 because I've maxed out my credit cards," she says

Over-extravagant DeVry graduates is one thing, it's another matter entirely when it's mom working to feed three kids (who are approaching college-age, by the way). And any math major automatically gets props from me. Retraining is all well and good, but once you fall off the tech-training hamster wheel, it becomes impossible to catch up to the latest-and-greatest buzzwords that the resume scanners are looking for, especially when you throw in experience requirements. There's no guarantee that there will be jobs in whatever field you retrain for, either. The hangers-on should be glad that there's no "r" sound in Chinese, because there will be no stopping the yellow hordes if they spoke understandable English.

Posted by mikewang on 02:09 PM