People with valuable skills fare better in the labor market than people without them. People who make smart decisions fare better in the labor market than people who make poor decisions. And even in the middle of a steep recession, the vast majority of the people in the workforce are employed. So if you sample the unemployed population at any point in time, you’ll find you’re looking at a group of people who have relatively weak skills and who’ve made relatively poor decision-making. This fact has led to a lot of recent snarking about the life choices and college majors of some recent unemployed graduates.
But consider the macro context:
These are some odd demographic sub-sets of the population that the governments happens to have data on. And through the magic of indexing, we can see that some kind of negative shock seems to have hit veterans of all ages and genders, male workers between the ages of 20 and 24, and Latina women over the age of 20. It hit them all at the same time and with the same magnitude. You could try to look at the demographic characteristics of unemployed men aged 20-24 and compare them to employed men age 20-24 and I’m sure you’ll find that the employed early twenties men have some characteristics in common that, on average, the unemployed ones lack. But the broad-based shock is the story here. The difference between 2007 and 2011 isn’t that people got worse at picking majors, it’s that the labor market deteriorated.
Relative to recent fears about hard work, I suspect some on the right view efforts to alleviate the broad-based and avoidable suffering as bad for the moral fiber of the country. Since people who make smart choices and have valuable skills do better than those who do otherwise, and since smart choices and valuable skills are good, we should be using this as a teachable moment to scare the bejesus out of today’s high school students in the hopes that they’ll make smarter choices.