The Commons hosts commentary from contributing writers across the political spectrum, advancing American Compass’s mission through discussion that combines intellectual combat and personal civility.
A college degree has long been the key that unlocks success in America—the good job, the high salary, the professional networks. But many individuals reflecting on their educational experiences today conclude that their preparation for college and career was disappointing. In short, there’s a disconnect between what young people expect from education and what they ultimately experience.
Young people are experiencing an educational version of buyers’ remorse—the disappointment arising from the gap between their expectations and reality. There are two ways to address this problem. At the individual level, we should provide alternate frameworks for individuals deciding what comes after high school. And at the institutional level, we should embrace a K–12 career pathways approach that helps young people develop occupational identities and vocational selves and exemplifies opportunity pluralism, or offering multiple, credentialed alternatives to a college degree that place individuals on a path to satisfying careers and responsible citizenship.
As a father of young children, I have been shocked by the rapid growth and impact of gender ideology within our society, reaching human resource departments in practically every major corporation and recalibrating the relationship between parents, children, and public schools, both in the realm of curriculum and in policy.
Privacy is another major casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. Governments instituted expansive surveillance programs to enable contact tracing and corral the disease. Many of these programs are here to stay, as citizens get used to them or welcome them to avoid future quarantine and lockdowns.
More generally, the pandemic accelerated our growing dependence on digital media, which inherently make our personal information vulnerable. Students have relied on digital platforms to receive instruction, many of which are now entrenched in pedagogy for the long term. Millions of Americans began to work online, far from the office, and will continue to do so. They have also learned to rely on online retailers to supply everything from groceries to clothing to home goods. These are all new habits of living, which will continue long after the pandemic.
The Tolls of Uncertainty: How Privilege and the Guilt Gap Shape Unemployment in America, by Sarah Damaske (Princeton University Press, 336 pp. $28)
As I was reading sociologist Sarah Damaske’s new book, The Tolls of Uncertainty: How Privilege and the Guilt Gap Shape Unemployment in America, I was struck by a realization: though I’ve spent a good deal of the past 11 years interviewing working-class young adults in Ohio, I have met relatively few who have received unemployment insurance (UI).
Instead, I more often hear stories of people being denied or disqualified from UI, like fast-food manager Gina who says she was denied UI in 2020 when her employer said her leave was voluntary (her children’s daycare closed during the pandemic). Or Mark, a contract laborer for a construction company, whose work dried up but who was ineligible for UI because of his status as self-employed. Without health insurance, work, or any other benefits, an injured knee that required surgery left him with thousands of dollars of medical debt he was unsure if he’d ever be able to pay. Read More
Every day is a struggle when you’re living in poverty. You never know when you might lose your next meal or a place to live. You never know if something unexpected will come around the corner and knock you down, and how you’d find the strength to get back up again.
I never had an easy life, going through difficult family problems, feeling discriminated against, facing abusive situations, and just struggling to get by. When you’re just barely living paycheck to paycheck, you don’t have time to worry about the big picture. You’re just trying to hang on, put all that’s going on in your life to the side so you can work a few more hours a week—if you can find a stable job. Every day is a struggle. Your dreams are crushed. You get tired, burnt out, depressed. Not everybody makes it through.
There are highs and lows in everything, and many of us experience both. We are all just one decision or one missed paycheck away from seeing a different side of life. That should be humbling for us all. But too often people assume the worst about people in difficult circumstances.
I’ve been faced with an abundance of challenges throughout my life. Depending on the circumstances, being in one of those “lows” can be scary. When you’re faced with a scarcity of resources, or lack of support, it can be a real challenge. My own experience has taught me that when people fall on hard times, some are blessed enough to recover quickly, while others might struggle a bit to rebound.
Coming to terms with the importance of free speech means coming to terms with the reality that free speech will sometimes be used for abhorrent purposes. We protect bad speech on the grounds that the alternative—censorship—is even worse. But the rise of social media as both a powerful distribution framework and disseminator of content has created the problem of misinformation and led to questions about whether we’ve found the right balance—or if charges of “misinformation” actually provide cover for outright censorship.
There is also the critical question of who makes the call: Silicon Valley-based social media giants have rarely had to face consequences for the dissemination of misinformation—or outright distortion in the form of fake news—and have profited mightily from it. But with Trump now ousted, the likes of Facebook and Twitter (both of whom were happy to monetize the former president’s words when he was in the White House) are increasingly taking on the role of judge, jury, and executioner.
When I was in my 20s, I was confident I’d be a stay-at-home parent if I had children—I simply didn’t give the alternatives much thought. But sometimes life goes in different ways than you expect.
I got married in November 2019 at age 33. Three months later, in February 2020, we had a surprise positive pregnancy test. It was quicker than we had expected, and, of course, the world shut down just a few weeks later. In addition to all the usual concerns of first-time parents, we had the added stress of a pandemic whose effects were largely unknown at that time. Spring 2020 was a roller coaster of stress, dreams, doctor visits, and crushing isolation.
While all of that was going on, and the due date drew closer, I was the primary breadwinner in our family. I felt that I’d worked very hard to get to where I was, and that quitting my job outright in seven months would leave our family in a financially unstable position.
Cash payments to families with children will begin this month, thanks to the Biden administration’s stimulus that significantly enlarges and extends child benefits. This won’t end the debate over the best way to reduce poverty—it will only become more pressing as the benefit’s one-year expiration date approaches. Is this the best way to help struggling families? Some argue we are repeating mistakes of the 1960s–1990s AFDC (“welfare”) program that left many dependent on government aid, with little incentive to find work, while even some conservatives favor generous child allowances. As both sides look for a clear answer, European countries with strong welfare states provide some unexpected lessons that can point us toward bipartisan solutions.
Although I know that some of my opinions are solid and will not be changed, I usually keep them to myself—and wish a lot of other people would as well sometimes. This is a personal topic to me, but since we just celebrated Pride month, it’s important for me to be honest: I have a gay daughter. Yes, I am proud of her, I support and love her, and support other marginalized members of that community. We need politicians to help make sure families can take care of each other. But I am getting ahead of myself.