Over 317,000 waiters and waitresses have college degrees (over 8,000 of them have doctoral or professional degrees), along with over 80,000 bartenders, and over 18,000 parking lot attendants. All told, some 17,000,000 Americans with college degrees are doing jobs that the BLS says require less than the skill levels associated with a bachelor’s degree.…Putting issues of student abilities aside, the growing disconnect between labor market realities and the propaganda of higher-education apologists is causing more and more people to graduate and take menial jobs or no job at all. This is even true at the doctoral and professional level—there are 5,057 janitors in the U.S. with Ph.D.’s, other doctorates, or professional degrees.
This is why I keep saying that on the whole, I’m glad I didn’t go to college, despite the fact that I would surely have enjoyed the intellectual atmosphere. And while I’m taking stock of my good fortune, I’m even more glad I never absorbed the romantic myth that our job should be the culmination of our hopes and dreams, the fullest expression of our personalities. It’s an exceedingly tiny percentage of people who are fortunate enough to get paid well for doing what they love most of all. Bully for them, of course, but for the majority of people who have to settle for doing whatever pays the bills (including the massive expense of that college education), it’s hard to avoid feeling a sense of failure, as if they’ve missed out on their calling (thanks again, John Calvin, for that stupid fucking notion). And as step one in the escape theory explains, there are often catastrophic consequences to feeling that way:
Most people who kill themselves actually lived better-than-average lives. Suicide rates are higher in nations with higher standards of living than in less prosperous nations; higher in US states with a better quality of life; higher in societies that endorse individual freedoms; higher in areas with better weather; in areas with seasonal change, they are higher during the warmer seasons; and they’re higher among college students that have better grades and parents with higher expectations.Baumeister argues that such idealistic conditions actually heighten suicide risk because they often create unreasonable standards for personal happiness, thereby rendering people more emotionally fragile in response to unexpected setbacks. So, when things get a bit messy, such people, many of whom appear to have led mostly privileged lives, have a harder time coping with failures. “A large body of evidence,” writes the author, “is consistent with the view that suicide is preceded by events that fall short of high standards and expectations, whether produced by past achievements, chronically favorable circumstances, or external demands.” For example, simply being poor isn’t a risk factor for suicide. But going rather suddenly from relative prosperity to poverty has been strongly linked to suicide.
And Ed’s lament is a common one even among those who are fortunate enough to have parlayed an advanced degree into an actual academic career. I have several bright, well-educated friends who suffered like that for years in academia before dropping out entirely.