Megan McArdle links to the piece, and adds a good deal more discussion, including an apropos quote from George Orwell on the perils of the early 20th century English lower upper middle class. (That a class should require three modifiers seems terribly English.)
In the kind of shabby-genteel family that I am talking about here is far more consciousness of poverty than in any working class family above the level of the dole. Rent and clothes and school-bills are an unending nightmare, and every luxury, even a glass of beer, is an unwarrantable extravagence. Practically the whole family income goes in keeping up appearances. It is obvious that people of this kind are in an anomalous position, and one might be tempted to write them off as mere exceptions and therefore unimportant. Actually, however, they are or were fairly numerous.How on point this is is hard to say. It is true that the prevalence of both college and advanced degrees among the OWS protesters appears to be about twice that of the general US population. (And 25% of the protesters say they are still students.)
What did ring true to me in Anderson's piece are two points, both of which strike me as relating to misperceptions common in my generation. (And since the average OWS protester is white, male and my age, I guess I can speak to the situation as well as anyone.)
First off, a number of interviews I've read have expressed the sentiment, "I did everything right. I got a college degree, and the debt that came with it. Now I can't find a good job." This seems to sum up several major problems we seem to have at the moment in regards to college. On the one hand, employers too often expect college degrees for jobs which pretty clearly do not require them. Instead, having a college degree has become a sign of being somewhat intelligent and having enough persistence to actually finish a degree. (Something which, increasingly, doesn't even necessarily require much brilliance or hard work.) My grandfather used to tell a story about how at the height of the Great Depression he was turned down for a job as a gas station attendant on the basis of not having a college degree -- there were so many people applying for the job that they decided to look only at college graduates. We're not quite to that point, but it seems at times like the combination of the tough economy and the expectation that every person worth employing will come with a degree is getting us close to that. On the other hand, this association with college degrees and employment seems to have generated the idea in many people that if you just get a bachelors degree, someone can be expected to simply give you a job that will be sufficient to sustain you at the level to which you are accustomed. To my knowledge, this has never been a realistic expectation, and it certainly isn't now. Although most levels of the education process may have come around to an "automatic pass" way of doing things, employment most certainly does not work that way.
Second, the trend which Anderson notes of a large number of young college graduates being convinced they have a near entitlement to work in a non-profit or government job is something that I've very much noticed among others my age. Indeed, at times it seems a little like the odd prejudice one finds in Jane Austen characters against those who are "in trade" -- a late breaking US class system based on idealism. Of course, this leads to a lot of heartbreak, because the funny thing about non profit work is that... it's not very profitable. I remember a co-worker back in my first job out of college lamenting that she couldn't find, "A fun job at a non-profit paying at least 70k and including occasional travel." At the time, that sounded totally pie in the sky, as that was twice what either of us made. And to be honest, it still sounds pretty pie in the sky. (I believe she eventually found a solution in marrying a guy who made plenty of money and focusing on mothering and volunteering.)