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Editor's Letter: A walk through Zuccotti Park

As the parent of a college-bound high school senior, what struck me the most were lots of college graduates who don’t have jobs.

There’s a lot to take in at Occupy Wall Street headquarters. I walked through Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan one night this week and saw Teamsters in hard hats, Native Americans protesting colonization, and a guitarist singing, “Who’ll wash the dishes after the revolution?” (See Talking points.) But, as the parent of a college-bound high school senior, what struck me the most were lots of college graduates who don’t have jobs. My advice to my son Austin has been to get the best liberal arts education he can and take it from there. That worked for me, more or less. Does the plight of these young people—well-educated, indebted, unemployed, and outraged—make that bad counsel?

No question, the world has changed. The cost of a college education has grown four times as fast as inflation in the 30 years since I graduated. An estimated 15 percent of 20- to 24-year-olds are unemployed, but far more are stuck in jobs that don’t require those hard-won degrees in, say, anthropology or theater design. Today’s students graduate with debt averaging $27,800, and many of them aren’t making nearly enough to pay it off. Some say their predicament is another sign of our national decline. They point out that in India and China, the best students opt for hard-headed—and marketable—majors like engineering and physics, rather than squishy stuff like the humanities. But I still think you’ve got to follow your interests. Austin is smart enough to avoid running up big debts and says I shouldn’t worry about his future. I’ve promised to try, but I keep thinking about those college kids sleeping in the park, wondering where all the jobs went.

James Graff

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