Students carry anxiety over rising unemployment

We can feel it already. Inside of us there is this anxiety that swells at the thought that all our talent will go to waste when we graduate into a world of increasing unemployment and can find nobody to fund our genius.

We feel echoes of that rundown 1930s despondency as the doors close on the Clintonian vision of a world where our talents and education are rewarded with a decent salary. We can feel it in every report of factory closings, hiring cutbacks and lowering wages: America is nose-diving into the next depression, and not necessarily an economic one. We are let down, and we are giving up; according to The New York Times, the unemployment rate for September was 9.8 percent, an already high figure that doesn’t even account for the nearly 600,000 people who have just stopped trying to find jobs.

For students, this is devastating. Throughout college, most of us try to narrow our talents and interests into a track that will be economically productive. We channel whatever creative human talent we harbor into some kind of trade: penchants for drawing focus into graphic design, wit and writing becomes work on a public relations newsletter, interest in physics is tailored toward engineering. In a way, being paid for what we like to do validates those things as interests worth having, because they help us sustain ourselves and our communities.

For the most part, there is nothing wrong with this. If we can make money doing what we are good at, then we should. But as America is experiencing all over again, we can rarely accomplish this in a faltering economy like our own.

Joblessness has taken a bludger to our senses of self-worth: Under a capitalist system that values endless growth above all else, we are valued for our earning power, not our humanity. Instead of people, we are commodities; we are traded and paraded on the job market. This is especially dehumanizing, for it means that when we lose the ability to earn, we lose our worth as people; we are suddenly back where we were 70 years ago, skipping from boxcar to boxcar, disparaged and glad for any scrap of metal.

Even if we never find a job, we need to find some way to maintain our worth as humans. We need to resist the idea that the only thing that makes our lives worthwhile is our ability to make money. It is necessary, of course, but it doesn’t imbue us with worth. We need to keep and foster that initial seed that wanted to draw or write or understand matter, for no reason other than we find genuine human pleasure in it.

Our selves and our art and our faculties are not defined by the perimeters of capitalism but by our own amorphous and ineffable humanity. As we move from the safe confines of the classroom into the maelstrom of the real world, let us try to remember this.