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Robert Reich
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Saturday 19 May 2012
“This nation can’t be competitive globally, nor can we have a vibrant and responsible democracy, without a large number of well-educated people.”

The Commencement Address That Won’t Be Given

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Members of the Class of 2012,

As a former secretary of labor and current professor, I feel I owe it to you to tell you the truth about the pieces of parchment you’re picking up today.

You’re f*cked.

Well, not exactly. But you won’t have it easy.

First, you’re going to have a hell of a hard time finding a job. The job market you’re heading into is still bad. Fewer than half of the graduates from last year’s class have as yet found full-time jobs. Most are still looking.

That’s been the pattern over the last three graduating classes: It’s been taking them more than a year to land the first job. And those who still haven’t found a job will be competing with you, making your job search even harder.

Contrast this with the class of 2008, whose members were lucky enough to get out of here and into the job market before the Great Recession really hit. Almost three-quarters of them found jobs within the year.

You’re still better off than your friends who didn’t graduate. Overall, the unemployment rate among young people (21 to 24 years old) with four-year college degrees is now 6.4 percent. With just a high school degree, the rate is double that.

But even when you get a job, it’s likely to pay peanuts.

Last year’s young college graduates lucky enough to land jobs had an average hourly wage of only $16.81, according to a new study by the Economic Policy Institute. That’s about $35,000 a year – lower than the yearly earnings of young college graduates in 2007, before the Great Recession. The typical wage of young college graduates dropped 4.6 percent between 2007 and 2011, adjusted for inflation.

Presumably this means that when we come out of the gravitational pull of the recession your wages will improve. But there’s a longer-term trend that should concern you.

The decline in the earnings of college grads really began more than a decade ago. Young college grads with jobs are earnings 5.4 percent less than they did in the year 2000, adjusted for inflation.

Don’t get me wrong. A four-year college degree is still valuable. Over your lifetimes, you’ll earn about 70 percent more than people who don’t have the pieces of parchment you’re picking up today.

But this parchment isn’t as valuable as it once was. So much of what was once considered “knowledge work” – the kind that college graduates specialize in – can now be done more cheaply by software. Or by workers with college degrees in India or East Asia, linked up by Internet.

For many of you, your immediate problem is that pile of debt on your shoulders. In a few moments, when you march out of here, those of you who have taken out college loans will owe more than $25,000 on average. Last year, ten percent of college grads with loans owed more than $54,000. Your parents have also taken out loans to help you. Loans to parents for the college educations of their children have soared 75 percent since the academic year 2005-2006.

Outstanding student debt now totals over $1 trillion. That’s more than the nation’s total credit-card debt.  

The extraordinary rise in student debt is due to two related facts: the cost of a college education continues to increase faster than inflation, and state and local spending per college student continues to drop – this year reaching a 25-year low.

But this can’t go on. If unemployment stays high for many years, if the wages of young college grads continue to fall, if the costs of college continue to rise and state and local spending per college student continues to drop, and if the college debt burden therefore continues to explode – well, you do the math.

At some point in the not-too-distant future these lines cross. College is no longer a good investment.

That’s a problem for you and for those who will follow you into these hallowed halls, but it’s also a problem for America as a whole.

You see, a college education isn’t just a private investment. It’s also a public good. This nation can’t be competitive globally, nor can we have a vibrant and responsible democracy, without a large number of well-educated people.

So it’s not just you who are burdened by these trends. If they continue, we’re all f*cked.

This article was originally posted on Robert Reich's blog.

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ABOUT Robert Reich


ROBERT B. REICH, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including his latest best-seller, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future;” “The Work of Nations,” which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His widely-read blog can be found at Robert Reich's new film, "Inequality for All" is available on DVD
and blu-ray, and on Netflix in February.

OK, so why is the cost of

OK, so why is the cost of college rising at a rate so much higher than inflation? This has been going on for years and decades, and nobody, including Mr. Reich, has paid much attention to it until now. When the cost of a gallon of gas shoots up, we go into high indignation mode, denouncing Big Oil, demanding investigations of price fixing, speculation, etc. Where's the outrage where Big Education is concerned? Today it's possible for a young person to accumulate tens of thousands of dollars of debt in pursuit of an entirely frivilious degree. While I agree that a well-educated population is a national asset, I don't think we should assume that Big Ed is getting the job done. On the contrary, it looks to me as though tenured faculty, admistrators, etc. are enriching themselves at students' and the public's expense. Where's the outrage?

While I realize a lot of the

While I realize a lot of the problem here is billed as "State and Local" spending per student decreasing, I'd be curious to see how much of that is actually "State" and how much is "Local". Our local community college district taxes have increased some (but has not kept up with student growth), whereas total state (TX) funding has actually decreased despite our record enrollments. So what does it boil down to? Locals are paying a bit more overall but less per student, the state is just flat out paying less, and the college is stretched even more. To add insult to injury, the state says here is what you are guaranteed to receive over the next biennium (until we go back on our guarantee). Kind of makes it hard to plan a budget when the money you're promised gets yanked before you get it. Well, thank goodness for higher tuition rates.

I find it ironic that people

I find it ironic that people criticize the 1% but everyone aspires to that goal, that is, to get rich.

Steve, the American Dream

Steve, the American Dream impacts what people's goals are here. But where does the American Dream come from? What entities have been peddling it for generations? Is it really natural or is it cultural control? Or a mix? Im sorry, even with that most middle class (what used to be middle class of the 50s 60s) were really content to simply have a clear disparity reflecting superiority between their comfort and national power (ie- Atomic Bombs, Olympic medals, automobiles, highways, Disneyland, skyscrapers and moon walks) and third world deprivation. I dont think many people, even nieve youth, really think they are going to be very rich. You dont get a social work or art or engerneering degree thinking, wow this is the land of opportunity, im going use my degree to be a millionare. Steve, even of those that aspire to being a millionare or rich as you say, do not aspire to Bill Gates, Queen Elizabeth type 1% rich. That might just be a birth problem or it sneaks up on you surprizingly. However, let me say, it takes a certain rare despot to grow to that position or maintain it - reason- hauding global wealth of that magnitude is an undeniable acknowledgement of global accountability. As the planet goes regarding injustice, Climate Change and ecological dispair so does their position and authority. Its Survival 101. I'm thinking it has nothing to do with what the current sysyem is, nor your ecomonic faith or opinion - its laws of science i suspect, yet to be admitted.

Tony Pirog's picture

"The extraordinary rise in

"The extraordinary rise in student debt is due to two related facts: the cost of a college education continues to increase faster than inflation, and state and local spending per college student continues to drop..."

Yes, but what about the removal or bankruptcy protection and the predatory lending of Sallie Mae that has led to such humongous price increases over the years? Many, many people are utterly unable to get a good job are aren't even allowed to bankrupt. This inflates the numbers way out of proportion to where they would be otherwise. Studenst and their guarantors have been singled out by the puppet masters for a lifetime of punishment for the sin of daring to get an eduction that didn't translate into a "good job." That is heinous, barbaric and utterly un American. Every American must be permitted a second chance in life.


Bob, you are learning and have come to understand a lot more now than you did a year or so ago. PLEASE look into this subject.

Heh why not have college

Heh why not have college boats just like the hospital boats just outside of our national waters. The Indians can operate cheaper so why not teach cheaper. If the smart people say get educated then lets get some competition going on for the money being spent. Watch the professors and administrators shake in their boots the teachers are replacable as our politicians. I would not care if we just stop making laws for 4 years
and used the money else where. If student loans are to double where does the extra money go from the extra interest who is going to get the extra interest and why do they need it. Then close congress the senate and the judicial and presidentcy for 4 years good bye. Now pick some real citizens in 4 years

I disagree with Dr. Reich.

I disagree with Dr. Reich. First, you are not f*cked. Rather, you must search within yourself and adapt.
Second, you don't "get a job", that's archaic. Today, you provide a service. You determine what service you provide and then find out who needs it, and then sell your service to that person.
Third, the government has been creating inflationary spirals for ever. The government inflates college education by pumping federal dollars into the system, just as the federal government inflated the housing market. It's not natural, it's not organic, it's not a free market approach.
Fourth, government does not allow bankruptcy as relief to any government debt - and that now includes student debt, student debt taken over by the government under the Obamacare law.
In conclusion, the cause of our problems is the government - the same government that lies to us all about everything it does.

President Bill Clinton's

President Bill Clinton's Globalization message was that the country is going to have to lower its standard of living so that the 3rd world (China, India, Brazil, etc.) can raise theirs.
Clinton was saying that the US would have to become a 3rd world country (Exports raw materials, imports manufactured goods), a country of haves and havenots with no middle class.

President George W. Bush accelerated our decline dramatically running up debt with unfunded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and irresponsible, unnecessary tax cuts for the filthy rich.

Obama extended the idiotic, irresponsible Bush tax cuts for the filthy rich and kept the unfunded wars going.

Jeffrey, you've hit the nail

Jeffrey, you've hit the nail on the head.

We need to end globalization now.

Sharing knowledge is one thing, but if we cannot make anything (and we're close to that point) we have nothing to share.

So we should put tarriffs on all imported goods as a first step (and of course get a more sane tax system as well).

A general student strike -

A general student strike - unions would support that wouldn't they ? And Wall Street and university investors would sit up and listen if students just quit the system, and refused to pay debt of ushery. And would elders and professors with time on hand wonder down to the camps to teach and help? I hope they most probably would. So you know, i hear activist students wanting to deminish their support in the system that is anti-democtatic and anti-sustainable. Some ride bikes, close accounts at banks, reduce consummerism, some refuse to vote - but they sign on to massive collage fees and loans! We need to quit this oversight and gather with OWS. We need compostable port-a-potties and bail-money. Peace, evolution, sustainability.



Well, all these people

Well, all these people without jobs can find work at WalMart or Amazon. That's what the world is coming to.... low paying jobs without benefits... so the super wealthy can get their "things" quick and cheap!

Right on Robert Reich! Is

Right on Robert Reich!
Is college big business like hospitals now? Investors and the Wall Street complex trying to ride on the very fit backs of a young national group of the population. Education is right - Education is a right! But with Wall Street Foundations and control comes the inclusion of scewed teachings. Very dangerous. But here, you show, even a professor of business, finance and economy in the system, can speak out about the train wreck ahead, many carriges already crumpled. I dont understand why every student is not outside on permanent general stike. A tent doesnt cost much and the fellowship is fullfilling and sustainable - the community, educators, smart business will support such a gathering, and of course OWS has staked out the ground. In the time of Vietnam peace movement business and economics facilities were selfishly disinterested and it's students have gone on as professionals to build (and profit from) the Wall Street model today. It was more the liberal arts and social sicences that raised the protest calls of the day, and actually won great victories for women who now take their place at every facility where they were restricted before. Women business students and business women, for instance owe much to the sacrifice of women of protest and the arts in the seventies. In his last line Reich has developed a tag he can use for any and all groups now. What have peopoe been saying about sustainability for so many decades? "F*cked" is what we have when we dont have sustainablity. The question is: can the European college model manifest sustainability, or is it by evidence and premise, the problem?

The problem isn't

The problem isn't overpopulation or scarcity. It is debt. While it is true that we waste a horrible amount of natural resources, there really is plenty more where that came from. (Take for example the amount of crude oil available. The oil syndicate promotes the idea of "fossil fuels", which suggests scarcity. But the Russians pursued the theory of abiotic oil, which is much more logical and explains why "empty" wells refill after time. The Russians invested in super deep wells and became major oil producers.) Scarcity is promoted by the oil cartel because they can play the game of capture and control. They are not rewarded by production, but by keeping oil assets offline. they promote the idea that there isn't enough oil, and they make sure there isn't. (I do not say that we should poison the environment, but if you think about it, this careless attitude feeds into their scarcity fairy tale: poisoning our water (fracking?!) leads to water scarcity; poisoning our land leads to land scarcity.)

Similarly, the myth of overpopulation is promoted by our wealthy master class another cause of strife. In school we are told about the Irish "potato famine", which they say was a result of the overpopulation of Ireland. But while there was a blight on the potato crop, the promoters of this fable neglect to tell us that other grain crops in Ireland were entirely unaffected, and that Ireland EXPORTED FOOD throughout the "famine". If you research that "famine", you will see that it was caused by English economic practices. Overpopulation is another fairytale that is promoted by our wealthy masters because the solution suits their ends. Would you like a one child policy like China? We can all just keep aborting girls until we get the boy. That's what the result is. That is the "viable" alternative.

Scarcity and overpopulation are promoted by our wealthy masters because these two imposters help to promote their new world order agenda. Wars work well in this scheme because they eliminate excess population, and they kill off poorer populations who are having too many children. Wars also help to secure "precious crude oil reserves" that we desperately need.

The problem is debt. College tuitions have gone through the roof because everyone can get a loan. Student loans in this country are now at $1 Trillion. Easy credit competes against real money and it drives the prices up. This is the same thing that happened with the housing bubble. Fractional reserve lending creates money out of thin air, but it does not produce the interest that is due on the debt. When the interest burden becomes unpayable, the system collapses. The whole debt money system is a ponzi scheme that is created to ENSLAVE US. It is so simple that even a little girl can explain it:

Stop repeating the lies of your masters. Do a little research. Read "Web of Debt" by Ellen Brown. The solution to many of our economic problems is a lot simpler than our master's media monopoly would want us to believe.

Jeltez42 is absolutely

Jeltez42 is absolutely correct. I had a great job in construction, then a recession hit, I was laid off, didn't go back to work for several years - I was married, hubby really didn't want me to go back to work. When I started to look again, imagine my surprise, that same position now wanted at least a degree, preferably in that particular field. My 4 years experience did not mean a thing. Sorry people, I think that's criminal to require a college degree to dig a ditch!!

Yep, insane policies

Yep, insane policies instituted by the Cllinton, Bush and Obama administrations (and the Financial Powers that Be, such as the "Fed." One answer is to found our own colleges and universities and tell the traditional ones to get lost. This is REAL ACTIVISM!!

Once again we were sold a bag

Once again we were sold a bag of caa-caa by the ruling class. You too can be one of us, just go to college, get good grades, then work hard. Prior to 1980, this was somewhat true. The kid of a line worker could become an engineer, doctor, or high paid CEO. College was more affordable then. Grants helped you cover what your part-time job did not. Loans were small. As we struggled through the Reagan/Bush1 recessions (our 1st lost decade) the only way to get a decent job was to go to college at least for a year or two. Colleges raised tuition as government funding was cut. Loans grew and still the people came.

Now schools know that they can keep raising tuition and they will still have to turn people away. Students know that the more tuition costs, the more student "aid" they will get. So no big deal if tuition is now $500/credit hour, right? I'm not footing the bill right now. More and more jobs are now demanding a Master's degree to do what once were entry level jobs that you could get right out of high school. And the original tune is still being can be like us if you go to college....

People are still buying this stinking crock of BS. If you were not in the 1% at birth, you are not likely to ever get there and if by some chance you do, you will still not be one of them. Debt is the way for the 1% to enslave you and to keep you from standing up and revolting against their rule.

Education is still the best thing anyone could invest in both individually and as a nation of people. The power to do this there for us to take. We the REAL (living, caring human beings) People are supposed to be running the country. It is time to fire the ruling class and to claim what is righfully ours.

Norman Allen's picture

Dr. Reich! We are all F*cked

Dr. Reich! We are all F*cked by Bush, his Dick & Co. who turned the direction of the US economic ship 180 degrees so to hijack public money into private coffers of the .0005% with many laws (too numerous to list but cut in the estate tax and financing wars with borrowed money are the major ones). In addition, he tried to turn the cultural/thought process of the US 180 degrees by trying to give scientific status to bigotry, magical wishful desires of the dumbest sector of the society in the form of Creationism. DICK and Bush are directly responsible for the dumbing down of the society and prominence of Fox & Co. It is a pleasure to see not all intelligent people shy away from being on THEIR FACE and tell it like it is. High FIVE to you! Let's hope more thoughtful, known leaders light up the pages of the newspapers around the country with light of reason and logic so we do not let any creepy, crawly creatures in the dark places to come bite us again. Light up fire to chase the rats away, back in their subterranean abodes. Time for the US RENAISSANCE!

Agreed, but please include

Agreed, but please include the scoundrels in the Obama admin. too. Most all the people in Washington now are "part of the problem." Either they are corrupt, or they "haven't a clue." And, most Americans are comatose or stuck in PTSD.

Incidentally, I have heard Dr. Reich speak, and--to my amazement--he is very articulate and "on the beam" on these issues. One of the few "Good Guys" today. Please fight to "throw the rascals out" in Washington today, and get people like Rep. Paul, Sen. Kuccinich, Mayor Anderson or Bernie Sanders in the White House.

Norman, your comments are

Norman, your comments are genius. Would you like to be President?

I find it very bizarre that

I find it very bizarre that whenever there's a discussion about unemployment, there's never a discussion about over population. It's a simple numbers game. Less humans equals more jobs, less crime, less pollution. When will the correlation between unemployment and over population be discussed? Is it really too delicate a subject for us? I have a four year degree from a private "brick and mortar" university, and it's done me more harm than good.

It appears that Fukushima

It appears that Fukushima will rectify the situation of over population, unless the world comes together and encapsulates reactor #4 in a tomb about 50 feet thick.
I'm curious, how would you suggest reducing the population? We know the issue, what's the solution?

make it a felony for people

make it a felony for people on welfare to have kids. LOL

The predicted outcome when

The predicted outcome when you convert participation in a prescribed program of higher learning into a commodity for the masses for the purpose of generating profit for a few at the top. Add to that the fumbling of government officials to mass produce and distribute a perceived guarantee of lifetime security to a public that never understood that the whole point of mass production of any product or service is to lower it's cost and provide an enormous market for those business entities that profit from the interest connected to financing that product. Considering the fact that many foreign countries provide a comprehensive higher education to their young people without cost to insure their future survival in a competitive world, the Capitalist who run our economy see it as just another low cost product to mass market for big bucks and if we ever need the services of people with a real education, we will just import those individuals from their homelands and they will not demand or expect the local prevailing wages and benefits that are actually just a living wage to support a minimal standard of living. Any further questions about how citizens of a country can be easily manipulated into rejecting a Democratic Republic and replacing it with a totalitarian Capitalist state ?

There is something to be said

There is something to be said for your comment. But you cannot leave out the lower demand if we found someway to remove (like beaming them to another lush planet) the 4 million or so unemployed from this country, which will lead to more people being unemployed in order to keep profits up.

I cannot argue your point on pollution. Crime like unemployment is most likely to remain the same. It is not a simple numbers game. There are reactions to every action. Our problem is not so much over population, but over consumption which comes from unchecked greed. Yes, Earth's ecosystems would be much healthier if 4 or 5 billion people could be again beamed to someplace else. But the raping, pillaging, and pollution of our planet would still continue.

It is not so much about the number of people living, but how much they are consuming.

Stop mis-using 'austerity',

Stop mis-using 'austerity', since this word is defined as 'cutting back on luxuries', which is something only 1% can afford.

Stop promising the hopeless and helpless youths an education paid for after discharge, which is subject to extension by the whims of the military at any time today. This is part of their Big Lie that War is Good.

Stop all of these absurd Wars On Inanimate Objects. The cost of this multi-billion dollar per day boondoggle grotesquely cloaked in the Name of National Security would end our Greatest Depression Ever in less than one month.

Stop these Bottom-Liners Only from profiting on Death and Destruction by closing down every Colonialized Military Installation world-wide, and prosecute these Industrialized Generals, as well as their Bosses, with War Crimes, as well as RICO charges. Their offshore accounts must be frozen and every dollar of those misused trillions of ill-gotten gains will be returned to our Treasury Department at once!

Stop our National Guard from violating their oath to Defend Our Shores from all enemies, foreign and domestic, then bring all of them home immediately. It only takes one stroke of the pen by our Fearless Leader.

This would be good for all of us Real Americans by making us less villainous in the eyes of the world, but actually be Supporting Our Troops!

"This would be good for all

"This would be good for all of us Real Americans by making us less villainous in the eyes of the world"

A prudent action considering that Russia and China and various other Asian countries have let us know that they are willing and ready to give us a run for our money. I'm sure those so-called blustering Patriots are chanting loudly about the massive superiority of the U.S. Military, we have always had Armchair Generals who are always willing to advise and fight from their secure position in front of their TVs. Our real military leaders have been attempting to tell us for years that we shouldn't blindly accept the political rhetoric of the civilian politicians who only have the survival of their personal political careers in mind. Russia and China would be formidable enemies as both countries have experienced the effects of major wars first hand while the closest that most of the current population of the U.S. has come to a war time experience are the embedded journalist who appear on a staged screen in front of some military vehicle on the TV News reading a patriotic script approved by the civilian bureaucrats at the Pentagon. If we ever confronted Russia and China on a nuclear armed battlefield, what scares me is that few if any would be willing to stand down and say "Wait a Minute, do we really want to destroy this planet ?". We can only hope that seiner heads prevail on the other side !

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