Sunday, November 25, 2012

Educated Americans Leaving in Record Numbers

Throughout the Great Recession, the news has been full of stories like this one:
When the best job Mikala Reasbeck could find after college in Boston was counting pills part-time in a drugstore for $7 an hour, she took the drastic step of jumping on a plane to Beijing in February to look for work.

A week after she started looking, the 23-year-old from Wheeling, West Virginia, had a full-time job teaching English. "I applied for jobs all over the U.S. There just weren't any," said Reasbeck, who speaks no Chinese but had volunteered at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In China, she said, "the jobs are so easy to find. And there are so many."
Now Emily Matchar, whom we last met on this blog as a chronicler of the return to traditional female crafts among her young friends, has joined the exodus:
After applying for 279 jobs over two years, my husband finally got the offer he’d been hoping for: a well-paid position teaching philosophy at a respected university. We should have been thrilled. There was just one little thing. The job was in Hong Kong.

“I feel like we’re being deported from our own country,” my husband said.

“It’ll be an adventure,” I replied, trying to sound game.

“I wasn’t looking for an adventure,” he said. “I was just looking for a job.”
There seems to be some statistical backing for the belief that more and more young Americans are heading for Asia to find jobs. The State Department says the number of Americans working and studying abroad has reached its highest level ever, 6.3 million. An organization called conducts surveys of Americans about their plans to move abroad, and they have found a real surge in interest, especially among the highly educated.

You can see this in a positive light: Americans are joining the world, and are no longer so parochial that they can't even imagine moving overseas. And academics are a special case, since we have been turning out more Ph.D.s than there are professorships for thirty years now. The choice for many philosophers, historians, physicists, and others has long been to go overseas or find another career, and if more are now willing to emigrate, well, good for them.

But the litany of college graduates unable to find decent jobs is also depressing, and makes me wonder about the future of work. In a stable, advanced economy, will there ever again be enough work for all the highly educated people? Britain has been exporting many of its best educated young people for decades; is that the path we are on?

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