Published on: October 19, 2011
We continue to get email weighing in on the discussion of the protests taking place around the country as a segment of the population expresses its dismay over the shape of the economy and the perceived out-of-whack power that one percent of the population seems to wield. Some of the email was specifically in response to an email we ran yesterday from a young person who has a job, enormous college loans ($60,000), and, I think it is fair to say, a sense that it will be difficult to meet her personal and professional goals.
One MNB user wrote:In response to the recent college graduates comments on “your views”...
I do remember the sixties. I have two children paying their way through college right now and neither one of them are using student loans to do so. Both of them will have spent much less than you amassed in student loans to pay for their schooling. I on the other hand graduated with student loan debt that took years (and a good wife) to pay off. Are my children part of the 1% or is entitlement just a relative term?
Another MNB user wrote:Regarding the response from one of the Occupy Wall Street protesters, his/her points:
“Student loans are a burden after graduation.” No kidding! That’s the same reality now as it was for anyone who has ever chosen to incur student loans. You had a choice! Either get less expensive education (Community Colleges or smaller schools) or view this as an investment in your future and realize that you have an obligation to repay your loan. Be thankful that student loans are available. Don’t whine about your debt. YOU DECIDED TO INCUR THE DEBT!
“Tuition and the opportunity to find work was different (much easier) in the 60’s. (The 99%) are only asking for the conditions that boomers graduated with.” Hmmm….and most of us were thinner, had more hair, and all of us were younger. So what! You can’t turn back the clock. If you are expecting to determine your own “reality” in the marketplace, you will have a rude awakening. It is difficult for many people out there looking for work due to the economic climate, not only for the recent graduates. Luckily, this person found a job. The question that he has to answer is whether or not his education was key to getting hired. If so, good investment. If not, poor decision.
“I don’t think many of those critical of this movement understand what it’s like to begin their adult lives owing more than they could hope to make.” Yes, we do understand, we just don’t agree with your premise that your choices do not have consequences. If you choose to incur debt for your student loans, you must consider this over the long term. It must be frustrating if you expect to pay back a loan for $60,000 in a short time. This is not reality now, nor has it ever been. I sense instant gratification, not reality!
“Watching the rich get richer…” I think that we all aspire to be “rich”. For many of us, that has nothing to do with what we make. Yet, demonizing the “rich” is convenient code for not determining our own course in life. Our immigrant relatives rolled up their sleeves, took any job to get started, and lived within their means. Some flourished and created jobs for others. Capitalism works! For those that abuse it, they should be taken to task, but don’t lump all into one batch. We need those successful small business owners that some would consider “rich” to get us out of this mess. Pulling the successful down and redistributing wealth will not help those that need a hand. They need opportunity, not a handout.
From yet another MNB user:To the Wall-Street protestor who was whining about having $60,000 in student loan debt and working 60 hours a week after graduating. Once you get the degree than the real work actually starts. There are no guarantees in life, times change and you have to change with them. Maybe they should have gone to an in state school, a cheaper school, or commuted. Did they work part time while in college, on spring/winter summer break?
I always say there are 2 things I won’t let me kids do when it comes time for college 1) Raid my 401K (what’s left of it) to pay for school 2) Graduate with $60,70,100K+ in debt.
While I agree some executive compensation is way out of control, turning to socialism is not the answer. I am well beyond my college years and have spent the last 25+ years working 60-70 hours a week, and spent the last year working 50+ hours a week, networking, scanning on line jobs, contacting recruiters (too many to count), and sending out 400+ resumes, before finding a position. Not sure the best way to find work is to spend time in a tent and not showering in NYC. Are times tough, of course they are, but they are for many people. Focus on the good things you have and on the future. That’s what got me through my recent bout of unemployment.
Another reader chimed in:After reading the following, I have to wonder what percentage of the disaffected are living in major metro areas, which certainly does make it all more difficult. I wonder because just a few years ago I also found myself with $60,000 in student loan debt and a starting salary of about $25k. On that, I was able to make my student loan payments, have a very nice apartment with no roommate, subscribe to both high speed internet access and Netflix, contribute a maximum match to a 401k and make embarrassingly large credit card payments. With no overtime. That’s apparently a heck of a cost of living differential and maybe that kind of distribution should be looked into a little more.
From another MNB user:While I sympathise with your reader who thinks it will take 30 years to pay off his $60,000 of student loans, I think he is taking a very narrow and pessimistic view of his future. A college degree is an investment in a lifelong career, not something that's supposed to pay off in the first few years. Perhaps if he does not progress beyond his entry-level marketing job for 30 years that view will come true, but that's not the way the world works - if he isn't setting his goals a lot higher than that and working hard towards them, then there's no one to blame but himself.
I graduated almost 30 years ago and took an entry-level marketing job for the princely sum of $18,800 per year while newly married and supporting my wife as she went back to school for a second degree. There were many Sundays when we had to decide whether it would cost less to buy groceries for dinner or gas to drive to my parents to eat there. But we never expected to stay in that position forever - the idea was to work hard, build your skills, contribute in a way that adds value, look for additional responsibility, deliver results and advance in the company (or elsewhere in the industry) to grow your income over time to achieve (at least) the stability and lifestyle your parents had - it worked for us, it worked for lots of other folks, and there's no reason why it can't work for dedicated, talented, well-educated people today. Don't complain about being part of the 99% - work hard to be part of the 1%.
And, another MNB user offered:Seriously?! 60K in 30 years. This is the problem with our educational system. They put this student through 4 years of school and yet didn't teacher them the financial basics. How to set up a budget to live within, how to successfully pay off debt, and how to prioritize personal responsibility. No wonder they can't get together on a cohesive message.
I went back to read the email that provoked all this response yesterday, just to check to see if I missed something. I don’t think I did, so let me see if I can respond with a bit of context.
The person who wrote to me went to a public, not private, university. She’s working in a full-time job, and seems grateful for the opportunity. She knows she’s luckier than many of her peers, who have found it harder to get a job after graduation.
There was nothing in her email suggesting that she doesn’t work hard, that she wants a handout, feels entitled, that she’s a socialist, or that she’s unwilling to make the tough choices that so many of us have made in our lives, as we dealt with financial realities by being responsible for our own decisions and aware of consequences.
Now, I am not going to suggest here that everyone involved with - or sympathetic to - the protests taking place around the country have the same sensibility.
But I also am not going to suggest that everyone involved with - or sympathetic to - the protests taking place around the country are socialists, are irresponsible, want a handout, or feel entitled.
I have very little tolerance for whiny, unmotivated and lazy people, BTW...but let me suggest something really, really radical here:Compassion should be our default position.
Again, not everybody feels this way, and certainly the people in this nascent movement have not been able to express it in terms of a narrative that seems either cohesive or compelling.
But I think that many, if not most, of the people who are discontented are feeling that the playing field is less even than ever, and they wonder if their aspirations to work hard and achieve membership in the middle class and upper middle class might be restricted by the so-called “consumer hourglass” effect, in which economic realities seem to be squeezing the middle class out of existence.
They read stories like the following, from the Daily Beast
, and they wonder about the future:
“Today’s Goldman Sachs earning reports provides a valuable lesson on how things really work inside Wall Street’s largest investment houses. Goldman Sachs had an awful three months, losing $428 million in the third quarter of 2011, and yet it continued to shovel billions into the bonus pool it will share with its employees at year’s end.
Through the first nine months of 2011, Goldman set aside $10 billion in its compensation fund. If Goldman’s 30,000 employees split that bounty evenly, that would work out to $333,000 per person—plus the billions more Goldman will no doubt set aside in the last few months of the year.
“Of course, the receptionist inside Goldman Sachs doesn't receive the same pay as all those analysts and other midlevel suits making salaries of $400,000 a year or more. Moreover, chieftains like Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who received $13 million in compensation last year, won’t have to share their year-end bonuses with as many people as last year. The bank laid off 1,300 employees in the third quarter of the year and plans on jettisoning another 1,000-plus jobs in the coming months.”
I am not suggesting here that there ought to be any sort of governmental regulation on how much people can or should make. But how can one read stories like this one - or stories about failed and faired CEOs who walk away with millions of dollars in severance pay even as their companies lay off employees - and not feel at least some compassion for the protesters?
As I’ve said, I have decided that compassion is my default position on this one.
I think it is important that as marketers - and as citizens - that we not be so dismissive of the people who make up this movement ... especially because, if it gains traction and grows, we will all have to deal with its repercussions.
I’m not alone in this. I was speaking with one of the most respected retailers in the country the other day, and he told me that he thinks it is extremely important that marketers take the protest movement seriously. And I watched as he quizzed our waiter about how he felt about the protests, trying to get a sense of both the moment and the momentum.
One other thing.
One MNB user sent me a link to a Washington Examiner
op-ed piece suggesting that the protesters are just whiny, self-involved, spoiled liberals deserving of nothing so much as contempt, and that the people we really ought to feel for are our troops, who “would not complain to the cameras even if there were any left in the war zones documenting their struggles. They aren't whiners. They may be the same general age as the Occupy Wall Street gang, but they occupy a very different, less frivolous world.”
And I would respond to this by suggesting that in its own way, this op-ed piece represents the height of cynicism. It suggests that nobody should ever complain about anything, or point out any sort of perceived inequity, because nobody is at risk as much as our troops.
I think there ought to be room in our hearts and minds to have compassion for both groups. Different levels of compassion, of course, because few of us can even imagine what it is like to serve in places like Afghanistan ... and I would never suggest that there is some sort of equivalency in terms of hardship. (And it isn’t just young people protesting, by the way...I’ve seen some of the pictures, are there appear to be some weathered faces in the groups, and some of them even seem to be those of veterans.)
Different worlds, and different levels of compassion. But I like to think that we are all capable of entertaining two different thoughts and feelings at the same time.