Crisis in Ukraine & at my local Cafe…REALLY???

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By Kenneth Justice

~“Kenneth, I’m overwhelmed from my student loans. At the rate I’m currently able to make payments; its gonna take me 40 years to pay it all back!” she said

This past week Ukraine has been front and central in the eye of the world. NEWS sources have been flooding our televisions and tablets with images of the picturesque city of Kiev on fire; gunfire, protests, and unrest of all sorts is flooding the streets if Kiev with no end in sight.

I simply don’t have enough intimate knowledge in the Ukrainian political and economic situation to speculate publicly on the course of action that President Vickto Yanukovych should take, or to what degree the President is to blame for what is going on.

Yet as I sat there last night listening to ABC NEWS report on the unrest in the Ukraine, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the countless hundreds of young people that I’ve talked with here in the United States who are struggling with their own version of unrest.

Over the years, the most common conversation topic that young people would bring up to me at coffee shops was their feeling of frustration with religion (and specifically with Christianity). Many young adults in the United States grow up in Christian homes and as they mature toward adulthood they find themselves faced with very real difficulties regarding their belief systems,

—) Many children grow up in Christian homes with parents who are alcoholics or abusive

—) Many children grow up in Church communities that focus more on rules than relationships

—) Many children grow up in Christian communities that are more concerned with image than reaching out and helping the people who are truly in need

—) Many children simply grow bored of church and church life

There are a myriad of reasons young adults get ‘burned out’ by religion…and for the past two decades of my life this was the issue that men and women I would meet with at coffee would want to discuss with me the most……..but not anymore.

Sure, I still get a lot of people that want to talk about their struggles with Western Christianity….but over the past few years the number one topic that young adults want to discuss with me is their frustration over college and career.

I’ve literally sat with thousands of young adults who are college graduates yet can’t get a decent enough job that they can justify working at; it’s not that they aren’t able to find low-paying minimum wage jobs…’s that they can’t find jobs which justify all of the effort and cost they put into their college degree.

—-) When you owe the University of Michigan $90,000 for the bachelor degree in health services you just graduated with, it’s hard to justify working as a nurses aid for $10.50 per hour

—-) When you owe Hillsdale College $68,000 for your bachelor degree in teaching, it’s hard to justify working as an entry-level high school teacher for $21,000 per year which is barely enough to pay your bills…..let alone pay off your student loans

—-) When you owe the University of Florida $88,000 for your degree in accounting, it’s hard to justify working as an accounting assistant at only $11.00 per hour.

Don’t get me wrong, college can be great; it can be a wonderful experience and a time of great personal growth……but for many people college merely becomes a four year period in which they graduate facing a mountain of debt that seems impossible to ever climb.

According to the New York Daily News, “Today’s students graduate from college with heavy debts, and many aren’t reaping the benefits of that education — a poll shows recent grads often find jobs that don’t require a college degree. More than 40% are unemployed, and 16% are in part-time positions” —–that means half of all students who go to college will NOT be employed in a job upon graduation.

Who do we hold responsible? It’s a tough question to answer. Many college graduates DO find jobs; many women and men become teachers, nurses, accountants, and lawyers…..and because they found a job many of them think the problem is a lack of imitative on the college graduates who are still unemployed.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe there is a clear-cut answer to the problem. Because a lot of the college graduates whom I talk with that are employed….are actually underemployed; they either work in positions where a degree isn’t even needed, or their rate of pay simply doesn’t justify the amount of money they spent (and owe on their college degree).

So why is this issue important? Do we really need to keep thinking about it and talking about it? I believe the answer is staring at us in our face; for too long those of us who live in the United States have bought into the lie that “bad things happen to other people and other countries…but not to us”.

—) We Americans believe all sorts of lies such as, “war is what goes on in the Middle East…not here in the U.S.”……..yet have we forgotten 9/11? Have we forgotten the Boston Bombing last year?

—) We Americans believe lies such as, “protests and rebellion is what happens in places like Greece and the Ukraine…it can’t happen here”. Yet have we forgotten the very war against England which we started over taxation without representation? Have we forgotten the bloody Civil War of the 1800’s? Have we forgotten the 1960’s and the college protest movement that struck across universities all over the United States?

I fear that if we here in the U.S. simply keep closing our eyes to the problems that plague our economy….and more specifically; that frustrations that young adults face all across our country than we are merely setting ourselves up for a coming economic disaster of epic proportions…..

But then again….perhaps I am worrying about nothing. Maybe I need to close my eyes, take another cup of coffee, and forgot about all of this……


If you haven’t heard I’m currently on a tour of 100 coffee houses meeting with readers and bloggers. Check my homepage for dates and locations; I’d love to have coffee with you!

Categories: Culture & Society

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66 replies

  1. In regards to the last item about protest and rebellion – we have also the recent example of the Occupy movement.

    My wife and I both dropped out of school after I recognized the unfolding crisis of underemployment – I honestly believe that the current higher education system is geared toward profiting from our debt and our belief in “the American dream” more than any desire to create a better society; it’s as if they kick us out the door and then forget about us, and that whole process – the management of education from enrollment to graduation – ought to be revisited if the system is to become a better fit for all in general; after all, we can’t all be accountants.

  2. Those are good questions… we can’t just keep closing our eyes… it really is getting worse (and I’m an optimist… it’s so hard to admit that things are getting better economically).

  3. Our entire education/workforce system is broken and I wouldn’t be surprised to discover it was set up that way by banks to keep people in debt. I work in a position not related to my work history or my degree and as a result I’m completely stuck in my position. My own company won’t let me advance and other companies won’t hire me because I don’t have the education degree to back up trying to work in the same field I’m in now and for positions relating to my degree they think it’s been too long since I was in school and that I haven’t been getting any real life working experience in that field. It’s so frustrating because I simply don’t make enough to pay my bills, and to know I have no opportunity to move up, even though there are plenty of open positions that I have the skills to perform well in, leaves me feeling anxiety and depression. I know I’m lucky to have a job in this economy but my degree seems like a complete waste of money to me. I think about going back to school to get my masters or a double BA but then wonder if that’s just going to increase my debt and provide no escape from my current employment cage. Something needs to change and soon. This country needs a reset or we’ll fall like all the other countries that pushed their populations too far.

  4. I closely follow NBC news reporter Richard Engel. He reported yesterday right from the middle of the unrest in Ukraine. That is very volatile situation. Their military needs to stay out of it.

    Student loans are a massive burden for young people. It is an awful way to begin your life out of college. Plus, the employment prospects are dismal. Repayment will take a major part of their lifetime. It would be such a depressing feeling.

    Yesterday, you pointed out the problem of income disparity for some careers. Income for the vast majority of people has not risen for over 20 years. Wealth has ballooned for a tiny fraction of our population. This is not sustainable. Disruption and protest will come again when enough people are so frustrated to feel that is their only recourse.

    • “repayment will take a major part of their lifetime. It would be such a depressing feeling”

      Right;’ depressed’ is the term that a lot of young people used when talking about their student loans. Its one thing if you’re a doctor and have have the money to pay them back; but if you’re earning very little money it can be really depressing

    • But haven’t recent graduates always taken “entry level” jobs? Do today’s grads have no expectation of being able to grow in experience and pay over time as they “put in their dues”? Did any of us (I’m 56) expect to be able to pay back our college loans on the basis of our first job’s take home pay?!?!? I don’t think the crisis is so much in the culture as it is in the mindset that going through one door means you’re automatically at your destination. Instant gratification has never been the norm.

  5. The student loan debacle is the most disgraceful symptom of the greed economy. We will pay dearly for this.

  6. AND this comes at a time in our country when bible thumping is at an all time high, AND by the very thieves behind this. People always ask why aren’t decent Muslims outraged at the Islamists; I ask why aren’t decent Christians outraged by our rape of the economically powerless in the name of religion?

  7. As an employer I can tell you that many, and by that I really mean most, of the people we interview who have recently graduated from college are woefully unprepared. A few are offered entry level positions that admittedly are low paying jobs, but honestly, that’s all they are worth fresh out of college. Maybe this is not their fault but the fault of the education system that churns out people unprepared to meaningfully contribute to the field for which they studied. I don’t know. But, there is a disconnect between what students are learning and what society is needing.

    A curious lack of comment on an issue so many are facing…

  8. I think highschools are setting students up to fail by pushing college without pushing solid financial awareness. College is an investment. It should be analyzed as one.

    Should anybody invest $80k to make an extra $7k/year (pretax)?

    I don’t think we need any major reset. We need people to start making smart choices. Unfortunately, for many (like in the article above) nobody told them the impact of their decisions until it’s too late. They feel scammed and rightfully so.

  9. I am conducting workshops on moving from what I call “job-work” to “Self-Work.” I have studied paradigm shifts experimentally and theoretically since the 1980s ( and believe the our current problems and opportunities are the result of a paradigm shift society is going through from a core organizing principle of “tangibles” to “intangibles,” things to stuff, solids made of information to information itself. The change force at work here is the Internet–the “wheel” of modern invention. A job is work in a box of someone else’s design. Self-work is a box of your own design, and is currently 20% of america’s work force growing to 40% by 2020. Re education, you can get it from the best universities for free, so why get in deep debt for it. This and more will be posted soon in a new blog: ViewShift.


    Sent from my iPhone

    • Robert,

      Very interesting thoughts for sure… thank you!

    • Will you be addressing the subject of autodidacticism (self-taught learning) as well?

    • Jak, I have a LOT of ideas regarding alternative education ideas… but for the present more people in western culture need to begin realizing that change needs to occur before alternative solutions are presented. Too many people still buy into the idea that the current educational model is fine and doesn’t need to be fixed/changed

    • I was asking RJH, actually, Kenneth, but fair enough, you raise some interesting points.
      Yet I would say that alternative solutions are already on the table, and have been on the table for quite some time, even if they are not widespread. I think school districts are taking homeschooling more seriously (ones in my region certainly are), if only just to create more programs to avoid losing state funding they would get if the students were in a public classroom. At least in this area, it’s not quite the fringe interest it used to be anymore.

    • Yes. Since our brains (and nervous system) are our personal learning machines that create new patterns from the experiences we give them (socially, physically and mentally), self-taught learning is the only “true” learning that can ever take place. Teachers are guides, coaches, and provocateurs in the learning process.

    • Excellent… thanks. I was fortunate that I did have a professor in the school of education (I was training to become a teacher, but it didn’t work out– long story) who said there was a difference between education and schooling.

      I wish someone had made this distinction much sooner, and had provided some guidance in a system I found rather broken, but I am grateful to those that taught me a lot, including friends and family. I hope to do better by my children and so I really do look forward to more insights you have to share. Thanks for your reply.

  10. Hey Brother, I believe that we have bigger problems than just about any country on the planet. I don’t know how long it will be kept under control but at some point I believe it will blow up. I hope I’m wrong.

  11. Kenneth, I don’t think it’s a good idea at all to pair the situation in the Ukraine with anything going on in the US. That kind of instability and suffering is truly unimaginable to us. Many people will default on these loans, and others will just figure out a way to pay them off over the very long term. This is so minor compared to what is going on in the Ukraine, where people are dying and the whole system is collapsing– with an impact on whether or not people can get food in the stores and the destruction of a world class city. I agree that there are some “sustainability” problems that are very serious in the US and our views toward college education needs to be seriously rethought, but not at all in the context or connected to Ukraine…

    • “many people will default on these loans”

      From what I’ve read student loans can’t be defaulted on; they are exempt from bankruptcy so that you are stuck with them for life.

  12. When a country basically gives away it’s industrial base what good is education when there are no jobs? . . .

    once the split is complete between the rich and the poor and the middle class is dead, our education system will recover, but only for the rich . . .

    that’s the way it is . . . don’t need a degree in political science to know that . . .

    • JJ, your so right; we’ve literally outsourced the vast majority of our manufacturing jobs that I wonder what hope there really is for future generations here in the U.S.

  13. Very insightful!! So are the comments. As one poster said, “no one is willing to make the tough choices,” it will take to correct the problems. I wonder sometimes if this is by design. It is all crashing so fast. I hope not. It does seem that a lot of what is currently happening can be traced to the student loan issue. We may not be the Ukraine at this point as one poster said, but if we don’t correct soon we may become the Ukraine eventually. I wonder about the crisis of religion too. The healthcare problem is also coming to a boiling point and is another debt being handed to the young.

    • “but if we don’t correct soon we may become the Ukraine eventually”

      That’s exactly what I fear! And there doesn’t really seem to be any growing movement that wants to begin addressing these problems 😦

  14. Depressing stories around the world.
    Ukraine is one of them. Half of the world in trouble, the other half looking for trouble. Wish you could have the power to help the innocent people.
    Welcome to 21st century
    Cars—– No keys
    Phones—No cables
    Leaders —No shame
    Kids———No behavior
    Spouses—-No respect
    Feelings——No heart
    Education—- a fortune, No value
    I better stop… Lol looks like everything starts with No, but it’s endless Hope for a better tomorrow. 😊

  15. “their rate of pay simply doesn’t justify the amount of money they spent.”

    I’m sorry, but that’s an excuse. Just because the pay isn’t as good as you hoped it could be does not mean you should turn a job down. A lot of places will look down upon someone who has been out of work for a while. Even if a student graduates and can find no other work than as a server at McDonald’s, that looks better than no job at all.

    That said, I know of students who do work that part-time job and still can’t find anything. The big problem I find is specifically with students who don’t have parents willing or able to let them live for free in their house. I have friends from college who work part-time or full time making just above minimum wage. Every ounce of money they make goes towards rent and student loans. The hours they work don’t leave them with a lot of time to look for jobs. It can sometimes take one or more hours to apply for just one position. So, they’re stuck in this cycle, spending all their time making just enough to get by without any time left over to apply for a significant amount of jobs. I’m not sure what you do about that. I mean, some may say to raise the minimum wage…. but I’m not convinced that’s the holy grail that will save the economy.

    • “they’re stuck in this cycle”

      That’s the problem I see too often TK; is that there doesn’t seem a way for many people to get out of the cycle. I’m totally with you on parents helping, like letting them live rent free until they save up enough money… but unfortunately there are a LOT of parents out there who feel that once the kid is out of school they need to be on their own,.

    • Well, it’s not just the parents– it’s the employers. I can think of NUMEROUS examples, and not just necessarily for college and university grads, but for high school students. I briefly dated a girl who said, “I could be a B student if I had the time, but with work, I barely have the time to do any homework. I’m usually so tired that I just show up to tests and hope to pass.”

      I found over and over again that for most of the service sector jobs I worked- restaurant, convenience store– a lot of managers were pretty unsympathetic to their hires that needed time to study. I rarely faced this dilemma, but I saw a lot of co-workers nearly haggling in vain to get the time they needed.

    • Or just can’t. The friends I have in that situation have parents that can’t afford to support them living at home. Adding that to the cycle is even more scary… something about opportunity…

    • TK, I live in the state with the highest minimum wage standard, and legislators want to raise it again, to $10.10, if I remember right.

      My sister (who is a librarian) hated it, because new hires could come in and be making the same rate as her, even though she’d worked years to get where she was at. I know it often pinches small business owners, who’d like to pay their full-time employees a little more… but can’t. I also read a letter to the local newspaper that said their developmentally disabled daughter would have wages cut with a minimum wage hike.

    • I don’t think minimum wage is the answer. That far too easy of a solution. I don’t see minimum wage as the problem and im not 100% behind the idea of raising it.

    • Again, preaching to the choir.

      Everytime someone (usually online) mentions Washington state having the highest minimum wage, I tend to say something like, “Yeah, yeah, thanks for reminding me.”

    • I feel like it’s much more complicated than wage. It’s not that parents are struggling, it’s why. It’s not that the graduate can’t make money, it’s why they have so much debt.

    • Aye TK, many issues have a lot of nuance to them that never seem to translate well into real action, and this is one of them.

    • Not political action. These complications can be dealt with, but it would be a long process. Politics want to do something with a fast return so they get reelected. They’d rather put a bandaid on the wound to stop the bleeding instead of setting the broken bone and giving it time to heal.

    • Note that I didn’t include the word “political”.

  16. Nothings stopping you, Kenneth. Serious is as serious does around here, huh? 🙂

    I don’t know. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. I think following through with responsibility is key. What do I know. l
    Coffee? It isn’t after 6 yet. 😉

  17. Sounds like the problem in the US is lack of education at High School Level. (I’m assuming your High School is the same as ours in Australia).

    I’m talking about Lack of education in Life Skills………..about career choices, the impact of student loans in their future, the availability of jobs in their chosen field, the reality of working part-time (impact on study time), the cost of tertiary education in general, the economic structure of the US & it’s neighbours………but mostly facing the reality of life in modern western society – there just aren’t the job vacancies there used to be, so there’s no point of studying for a Higher Education in certain industries. Teenagers need to consider their future prospects BEFORE they go on to Higher Education, not wake up with 3 degrees and a massive student debt (to find there are no jobs related to their higher education).

    Certainly many of our young folk are unemployed here in Australia. The old apprenticeship scheme we had 50 years ago just don’t have the jobs for 16 yr olds (who chose to quit High School early, thinking they can work & study as a mechanic, welder, builder, carpenter, hairdresser etc). The apprenticeship scheme needs Government assessment & updating. If we don’t have skilled Mechanics, welders, builders, carpenters etc how are houses/office buildings going to built in future (for example).

    50 years ago there were plenty of jobs in all walks of life, now there aren’t. On the other hand, I might suggest there are many young people who aren’t willing to start at the bottom, with low wages, and work their way up – they have no ambition or interest in ‘working for peanuts’. They figure if they’ve got higher education, they should be paid more (even if they have experience in that field). They don’t leave home as they have a good life living with their parents who feed & house them (and they don’t pay rent or board).

    When I left college, I was earning terrible wages 50 years ago, but I still had to pay a portion of it in board and do chores around the house for my parents. From what I hear, modern young folk don’t have to contribute while living at home with their parents, so there is no incentive to take a low-paying unskilled job in Australia.

    We need more than just qualified nurses, doctors, engineers, accountants, lawyers, economists, architects etc with degrees. We need ordinary, trained & experienced, people to do some of the more menial jobs. There’s a lot of unskilled jobs around that keep our communities thriving from Garbage collectors to dishwashers etc.
    We need more farmers, truck drivers, fruit pickers etc. With the changing climate, if farmer’s children don’t take on farming, what will people eat in the western world (cities)?

    Maybe Governments need to spend more money on creating job vacancies, not loaning money to students to study degrees. We need more money spent on resolving climate change so that droughts and extreme weather don’t destroy our farming & food production resources. We need to stop deforestation (raising the salt table which destroys arable land and makes it unfit for food production) and destruction of the Amazon (where the jungle produces some 25% of the world’s oxygen).

    We need to get Back to the Basics. Modern technology is all very well, but does it produce the environment that supports human life?

  18. I’ve never gone to college and have no plans to. I want to figure life out before I could even imagine what type of education college could provide. It is almost assumed that everyone must go to college. No one explains why.

  19. What you say applies to most countries!

  20. You bring up quite an interesting topic, here. The college system has changed so much over the last century and I believe this is cause for great concern and need of immediate reform.

    A hundred years ago, you generally didn’t have to pay for college. If you did, it was very little. For example, Stanford originally was a free college. At one point it became evident that they could not continue to have a free college and they started charging a modest fee. Over the decades this fee kept going up and up. There was some relief after WWII with the GI Bill but this was revamped in the 1980s, with a lot more restrictions placed upon it.

    Wiki offers a lot of information on the history of tuition costs with probable reasons why they have gone up, and shows graphs which demonstrate how the tuition rates are not too far off the rates following WWII if you take inflation into account. What they show at the very end is the most revealing. It shows a graph (late ’70s to 2008) of the cost of living, medical and tuition costs. Both tuition and medical have skyrocketed in comparison to cost of living. I wish the graph included a longer historical period. Also, legislative changes have opened the door to increasing tuition fees, with no loan protection given.

    It’s really sad to look at the job market these days. When I was young, if you wanted a job, you filled out an application and you knew right away whether you got the job or not. That is no longer the case. In all of my life, I never had any problem getting a job. But in 2009, when I moved to Florida, that all changed. I had great experience and references working as an executive in the Health Care Industry. For the first time in my life, I could not get a job. I must have sent out 300 applications for any job. No one would call me back. I even went pounding the pavement…you know, the old fashioned way. I got a nibble on that and thought for sure that i had gotten the job as they had me run through the hoops with the drug testing and background check. We talked about me starting…and then they never called back. Turns out the transferred someone from within the company. This is apparently very typical of today’s current job search. It terrible to watch so many people struggle with and without a college education. Even when you do get a job, the wait time between filling out the application to actually starting can be several months.

    This way of handling our work force is completely unhealthy!

    These students have a lot to be upset about.

  21. Right on, once more, Kenneth.
    Since I come from France where people are quicker to take issues to the streets, I am often in awe and shock too, when I see how Americans are resilient. But there is a limit to everything, and like you I also wonder how much people can take. The disparity between our people is simply insane and profoundly disturbing.

  22. My family all the time say that I am wasting my time here at net,
    but I know I am getting experience every day by reading such nice articles.


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