Dreary January

January always sucks here in the Northeast. It’s grey and cold. We’ve all had the same virus for the past three weeks, trading germs back and forth. I need to give the entire house a Clorox bath to get rid of these lingering evil bugs. Faded Christmas trees lay sad and lonely waiting for pick up by the garbage truck.

A story that I did in December was just published. I posted it here. Happy to talk about it in the comment section. I’m working on something totally different right now. It’s an upbeat story about a school in the South Bronx for emotionally disturbed children. (Yes, it’s a happy story.) I’m also editing a document right now for a long term project. So, there’s a lot of work to do.

I was at that South Bronx school earlier this week and had a great time, except for the horrible drive through the Bronx. With streets full of pot holes, sudden turns, unmarked roads, and drivers who don’t obey normal traffic rules, I was having anxiety attacks as I navigated my way there. But I did it. Yay me.

Jonah’s home still, which is awesome. Sniffling like the rest of us, he’s been looking at the career development website for school and trying to figure out what he’s going to do after graduation. What a bucket of stress!

Other kids in town are using their winter break to do informational interviews with alumna from their schools at various companies around New York City. I’m just hearing about this from other parents. Neither Jonah nor myself got the memo that this is what kids do during winter break now, until it was too late. So, he’s surfing websites about careers, rather than sitting in an office with a suit. Sigh. Parent fail.

There is a RIDICULOUS level on stress on kids about jobs. Here’s an article in Vox describing it. And this stress isn’t totally crazy. Millennials are burning out in their jobs. College graduates aren’t finding work.

I’m moving my family to a bunker in Vermont where we’ll make artisanal goat cheese.

Advertisements

When College Isn’t Enough

college-campus-Harvard.jpgWith a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Rutgers University, New Jersey’s flagship public college, 22-year-old Rachel Van Dyks expected to have a good job by now. A professional job with a proper salary and benefits would enable her to move out of her grandfather’s house, where she lives with her parents and her brother. Instead, the 2017 graduate works 46 hours per week at two jobs — scooping maple walnut ice cream at the local ice cream parlor and taking orders at a high-end steakhouse — while paying for an associate’s degree in cardiovascular sonography at a for-profit technical school.

Van Dyks is not alone, according to Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. A majority of college graduates require additional education in order to qualify for a good-paying job, Carnevale said — though many might not find that out until after commencement exercises are over. While colleges are expanding their career development offices and providing students with opportunities for internships, few students take advantage of those resources. For those young graduates, the realities of the job market come as a surprise.

More here.

The Family Estate

More and more, I hear from my friends that when their kids go to college, they aren’t planning on immediately moving and downsizing to a smaller pad. They say that with real estate prices being so high, they can never imagine that their kids will have enough money to buy their own home.

So, they plan on staying in the house, until their kids get married, have kids, and need a bigger space in a town with good schools. Then they’ll give the house to their kids. Some plan on living in the house with the kids and their families; others imagine moving to another state with cheaper housing costs.

I got a cold call from a real estate agent last week, who asked if we were willing to move, because she had a client who wanted to move to our block. We do live on a good block. We’re the worst house here, which is awesome and fabulous. We’re the house with the cars that get towed away and is desperately in need of new siding. My neighbors back their BMWs into the driveway, so they are facing front.

And Steve wants to dig up the backyard to expand his organic farming project. Hahahaha. That’s going to go over well with the neighbors who hire professionals to light up their yards for Christmas.

But I’m rambling. The point of this post is a small trend alert. Middle class families don’t think their kids will ever be able to buy a house on their own. That’s sad.

Jobs and Kids

I’m taking a brief hiatus from holiday consumerism to write a brief blog post about college kids and jobs. I finished an article last week on the topic. I’m not sure when it will come out, but I’ll puff it here when it does. In the meantime, let me just pass along advice that I picked up when doing the article. This is advice that I’ve been hounding my own college kid about this past week.

The job outlook for college grads isn’t wonderful, especially for kids who have just concentrated on finishing their degrees without much thought beyond getting the BA and for kids who don’t have parents to grease the wheels of the economy with connections.

I spent a few hours doing keyword searches on the online job boards for college BAs with a liberal arts and no experience. Most of the jobs that turned up were Dunder Mifflin type jobs selling random stuff for about $15 per hour. That might be fine. It’s a way to move up in a company. Research shows that most kids with liberal arts degrees start off in sales positions; some move into Human Resources or marketing. But college grads should know what those kinds of jobs are and be aware that that’s where they’re going to end up with a major in History.

30 percent of kids don’t make it past their first year of college. A huge chunk fail out their first year, or they leave because they can’t handle the independence of a school or they hate the chaos of a dorm. I see this among the kids that graduated with Jonah. Some are honor student kids. One had a big running scholarship to a fancy school. College is tough, and many can’t handle it. They end up at community colleges or trade schools. Two of Jonah’s classmates are now selling stocks at Boiler Room-type places.

I’m hearing anecdotal stories about massive student loan debt. Like $100K to $200K. I think those numbers are super high in the Northeast, because working class families around here make too much to qualify for Pell grants. Then they have to go to grad school, because 65 percent of all jobs now require advanced degrees. And they can’t afford that next step, because they owe too much from undergraduate education.

Internships are the new normal for college students. But internships are for rich kids. Kids who have to work in the summer to help pay for college can’t afford to work for free. And many of those internships at the fancy colleges actually cost money, because they are in foreign countries or in other cities. Families who are struggling to just pay for college can’t take on that extra burden.

Colleges have dumped a ton of money into career development centers, which is great, I suppose. Some are better than others. Some offer real help; others hand the students a pamphlet on writing resumes. And only a small percentage of students are going to the centers, because it’s not required.

Guys are choosing very different majors than girls and are having much different outcomes on the job market.

Students, especially the dudes, are choosing large public colleges over small liberal arts colleges. In some ways, this is a good thing. The large public colleges are cheaper and have more resources. But many students can get lost in the system. The kids who survive the big school experience learn how to manage the system. They learn how to tap into the resources. Others get in the bubble of student life and have little contact with adults who can help them.

Alright, done with the brain dump right now. More later.

 

 

 

 

 

The Other Families

With my special ed kid in high school, I started attending evening lectures and seminars about what to do when he turns 18. We’re not quite sure what supports that Ian will need as he gets older, so I am preparing for the worst case situation and the best case situation.

The worst case scenario is that he can never manage the real world on his own and will need full support for everything from work to food to housing. The best case scenario is that he can use his computer skills to find a proper job where they won’t mind his oddities, and he can live independently enough that he will only need light oversight from a family member.

Last week, I went to one talk where a social worker for the county gave us an overview of all the tasks that a special ed parent must do before the child turns 18, and then how they would have to manage the health, food, housing, transportation, employment, and social needs for their child. I knew some of those things already, but this was the first time that I got the broad overview.

It was horrific.

Until your child is 21, the school district is largely in charge of people with special needs. Not only do they have to provide the child with an education, but they also provide counseling, physical therapy, social groups, and transportation. They don’t necessarily provide health care, but in the special ed school that I taught at it in the Bronx many years ago, they wheeled in kids in wheelchairs who were semi-comatose and supervised them for the day. By law, they must care for all children until they turn 21.

Special ed parents talk about what happens when their child turns 21 as “falling off the cliff.” Services stop.

The woman from the county explained that parents had to manage all those aspects of their child’s life on their own. Yes, there were different bureaucracies with different pots of money that could help you, but the money was small and each bureaucracy had its own paperwork and quirks. It became very clear at this presentation that some parents, specifically the mothers, now had a full time job managing their child’s life.

It is a full time job just filling out the paperwork. And the quality of services is terrible. Yes, they’ll give your kid a lift to his job at the supermarket pushing shopping carts for less than minimum wage, but it takes 45 minutes for the van to arrive. At some point, the state will provide your child with housing, but there is a ten year waiting list for an apartment.

The woman explained that parents had to spend $5,000 on a lawyer to create a special needs trust and to get guardianship over the child-adult, which is necessary to pay their bills and to make medical decisions. She briefly mentioned that the difference between getting power of attorney versus the guardianship option, but told us to consult with a lawyer about these matters.

At one point during the talk, my face got all red as I realized the scope of work ahead of me, if we face the worst case scenario. I think I burst out with “THIS IS INSANE!” in the middle of her presentation.

How can anybody with a family with special needs ever vote for a Republican? I can’t understand how anybody would vote against their family’s needs in this way. We have no safety net in this country.

If some cells divide incorrectly in utero, you have spend the rest of your life out of the workforce, and instead your days become about managing paperwork just to get your child-adult out of the basement. A couple of wonky cell divisions means a substantially poorer family income and a lifetime of working your way through phone trees to find the right dispirited bureaucrat who will okay your transportation voucher.

If I knew all this twenty years ago, I might not have decided to be a parent. I probably would have anyway, because my kids bring me so much joy, but if I knew all this, I would have certainly paused and reflected on the risks.

And More Gossip From the Mechanic

Last night, Jonah drove home from an evening of Fortnite at Jimmy’s house and announced that there was a bad smell coming from the car. Bad smells aren’t enough to move us to deal with car problems. But when black smoke started coming out from under the hood this morning, we agreed that prompt action was needed.

I wasn’t in the mood for prompt car action, because I had a full day of work planned out. Instead, I had to drive 30 minutes to the mechanic and pick up a spare car from my parents. Any trip to my parents now requires an additional 30 minutes on simplistic tech problems and lunch and tea. On the way back, I had to pick up groceries.

The day is shot. Ugh. Might as well blog.

When I dropped off the car, I had to do some mandatory chit-chat with Jimmy the mechanic. Jimmy fixes my extended family’s fleet of Toyotas and Subarus. He’s honest and hardworking and worth the 30 minute drive.

Jimmy was in a bad mood this morning, too. His best worker, Dave, quit, after working with him for eight years. Dave went to work for a dealership where he will get paid more money and get health insurance and benefits. As a small business owner, Jimmy can’t offer health insurance. His own health insurance is 20K per year.

Jimmy needs to find a replacement and is stuck. He had one guy for two weeks, but he showed up late every day and he only lived a block away. He fired him. He said that all the guys coming out of tech school are terrible. They don’t want to work hard or get dirty. I guess tech schools aren’t attracting the highest quality workers. I also guess that not too many people are willing to work at a job without health insurance.

Anyway, this gossip is interesting mostly because it is almost the exact same story that I heard from my contractor two weeks ago.

I’m interested in these stories not just because I think it’s a sign that there is great unraveling of the economy. I’m paying attention, because it’s personal. I can’t imagine that Ian is going to be able to attend a traditional four-year college. His reading skills aren’t on grade level, and he certainly could never manage the social skills of dorm room.

He does, however, have mad computer and engineering skills, so I’m started to dip my big toe into information about technical schools and community colleges. What’s the best way to get him in a cubicle with a computer? There are lots of stories about how vocational schools are the wave of the future, but I suspect it’s more hype than reality.

Contractor Blues

So, we are nearly finished redoing the kitchen and ground floor of our house. The remaining issue — the TV hookup — is going to require a visit from the cable guy tomorrow morning. In the past 24 hours, I have learned volumes about the exciting world of HDMI cables. I’ll add that to the vast amount of arcane information that I’ve picked up in the past six months.

Because when I am about to spend a shitload of money, I do what I do best — I research the hell out of it.

Yes, we spent all the moneys on this renovation, but I still did it tens of thousands of dollars cheaper than other families in town. First, I came up with the perfect design for the room by going to five or six different kitchen designers and stealing their ideas. I pinned hundreds of pictures in Pinterest and watching hours of HGTV.  Then, I found a cabinet wholesaler to get me the right price, and I had him redesign the plans three times until it worked perfectly.

Then, I found a contractor who wasn’t a darling of the rich families in this town. Rich the Contractor was cheaper than the town groupies, but working with him required me to do a lot of supervision of the subcontractors. Rich did a great job with the woodwork and installing the cabinets, but everybody else — the plumbers, electrician, tile guy, sheet rockers, floor guy, fireplace guy, painter, architect — needed oversight and sometimes, I had to pay them separately, because the contractor didn’t want any liability for their work.

I could probably run any kitchen renovation in any home right now. I just got a PhD in kitchen repairs. I briefly thought about going into the home flipping business with Rich the Contractor, because I don’t suck at this. He was hinting at it, but that’s not my path.

And Rich the Contractor is thinking about moving into home flipping, because his job is ending. My guess is that our kitchen is his last job. His best worker left last week, when he was scooped by a big corporation that could pay him ten dollars more per hour and give him benefits. Rich can’t find anyone to replace him.

His business is barely profitable. Rich spends $24,000 per year on health insurance for himself, his wife, and his two 20-something kids. He can’t compete with the guys who get their health insurance through their wives or go without. He insists on following the letter of the law for everything, so he pays tons for workplace insurance, workman’s comp, social security. He gets inspections and follows local codes. He hires other guys like himself — middle aged, white guys who live in the area — to do the subcontracting work.

When it came time to do the painting, Rich recommended one of those middle-aged, white guys from the area. His quote was a $1,000 more than the Latino from Newark. Carlos and his friends did a fabulous job and were in and out of here in a day.

Like the contractor from Murphy Brown who never left, Rich has been here for two months. Whenever I needed a break from work, I would go upstairs and pick a fight with him about politics. He’s a Trump voter, so there was lots of fodder. In fact, Rich gave me a question or two to ask the high profile subject that I interviewed last month.

On top of losing his career due to competition from big corporations, more agile immigrant businesses, and his aging knees, his kids are struggling. One is doing okay at a local state college getting a degree in communication. He says that she’ll find a job. But his son, who wanted to be a cop, can’t find a job without having a family connection in the business, so he’s waiting tables and living at home.

Rich is ticked off about a lot of things, so he wasn’t really able to sort out how he can’t be upset at the high costs of health insurance on the one hand and then resist efforts to reform the system on the other. You don’t have to go to West Virginia or Kansas to meet people who aren’t thriving in the new economy.