A staple of society’s legends is the Ph.D. waiter, or the poet slinging hash at the diner. As with most legends, there is more than a little truth to it.
But if you or someone you know is in that unenviable position, we hope nobody succumbs to the temptation of saying “what’s the use?” of higher education.
After a decade of discussion of the future of American society, the idea of the “creative class” pushed most prominently by University of Toronto professor Richard Florida has been a focus of leaders interested in expanding economies, in Baton Rouge and almost everywhere else.
The general idea is that the class of those working with knowledge is the growth sector of the future economy. That idea has received some pushback in the wake of the devastating financial crisis of 2008.
Even some Wall Streeters might well be taking jobs they’d have sneered at before then. Financial services jobs in New York City have been among the losing job categories.
Florida recently addressed the issue in one of The Atlantic’s blogs.
“In fact, blue collar jobs are projected to decline by another 1.2 million over the next five or six years, while the creative class is expected to add another 6.8 million new jobs, with employment in arts, design, and media rising by 12 percent, according to projections by the Bureau of Labor Statistics covering the period 2008 to 2018,” Florida said.
His bottom line: “While some parts of the creative class have fared better than others, people who work with their heads haven’t suffered nearly as much as those who work with their hands.”
Many of those suffering the most as a result of the recession are those one might expect, according to national statistics: the blue-collar worker with a high-school education or less.
It’s a tough market if one does not have some advanced training, such as a community college certification. College graduates suffer, too, but not in the numbers of those without sheepskins.
Florida’s definition of creative class is a broad one, encompassing a computer programmer without a college degree as much as a professor with a Ph.D., and including insurance analysts along with financiers.
Given the scope of the financial crisis of 2008, and the persistence of unemployment in similar crises in history, the creative class was hardly immune from job losses. However, Florida’s broader analysis of the vital importance of creative jobs in the economy of the future remains trenchant. Not only higher pay but the inventiveness of people who can create products or companies are linked with education and the nurturing of the creative class in a locality.
Baton Rouge, Lafayette and New Orleans are three cities that share some of Louisiana’s deficiencies in educational attainment, but all three have universities and a quality of life that can be developed as a tangible economic asset.
As Baton Rouge’s investment in downtown museums and urban living matures and expands, the young people it serves and attracts are part of the economic future of the region. Libraries and universities are the obvious disseminators and creators of knowledge. A commitment to tolerance is also a part of Florida’s formula for attracting talent to a region.
The recovery of New Orleans is of vital importance to the entire state, and it is aided by that city’s reputation as a music and entertainment mecca.
So there is a lot to be said for sheepskins, even as many of us have been sheared by the job losses since 2008.
It’s not simply a matter of saying that a master’s degree in anthropology is no longer relevant to an individual, or to society, because of a short-term job deficit.
“We have to teach people to think, so that they can be learning and adapting (to new jobs) throughout their lives and careers,” said Ron Mason, president of the Southern University System.
He’s right, and the vital importance of higher education cannot be lost in today’s downturn.
Tomorrow’s upturn depends on it.