Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:4-5, NRSV)
"Stay in school!" "Study and get a good education and this will lead to getting a good job!" These were the repeated utterances that I remember growing up. Because of these words, many of my friends and I did not think much about our economic future or success. Perhaps the truth behind these words reflected the wisdom of a bygone era: a time when a family household could thrive off of a single person's income. Doing well in school translated into, and was a formula for, getting a good job one day - the pot of gold/treasure at the end of the rainbow, if you will.
Some thirty plus years after hearing these formulations, I am prompted to reflect: reflect on life, personal experiences, and from witnessing others. The summation of my observations and experience has left me to realize that the strategy of life thirty to forty years ago is very different than today. I know of few families (and none among my peers) who are successfully making it on a single earner's income. While only a few of my peers are doing ok, others are yet struggling to find their way. And with this search, there is the added stress of financial hardship. I have seen many of my peers with degrees in hand struggling to make ends meet. From one odd job to the next, or for some, they have found new programs in which to enroll and retrain: like becoming a secondary school teacher at age 50, or training to become part of the oversaturated rank among hospital chaplains – these are the perpetual students. Others are regularly employed as substitute teachers, book shop clerks, employees at Home Depot, FedEx, even Wal-Mart. One friend does window paintings during the holiday season (this same person while in graduate school lived in campus without electricity for nearly two months) while another works with a professional home painting company.
Each of these individuals at least holds one Master's degree (some up to three). A recent article in the Huffington Post cites a number of Ph.D holders (either unemployed or underemployed) are on food stamps. This shows a sharp rise of their dependency, since 2007 (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/07/food-stamps-phd-recipients-2007-2010_n_1495353.html. I worked at a graduate institution where a number of graduate students were on food stamps. Some of these students, facing the enormous hike in tuition rates, were finding it hard to live.
As Americans across the nation face tough times, educated individuals are similarly feeling the pinch. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently indicated that civil service workers (including counselors, educators and clerical workers) have the lowest earning wages of industry workers in the work force (see http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm).
These are the dark clouds that reflect moments, even stages in life. But these dark days, like others before, do pass away yielding to clear skies and bright sunny days. Despite moments of despair, especially on the eve of a possible government shut down (at the hands of those who despite being familiar with the basic needs of many, are consciously and irresponsibility playing politics with the lives of our nation's citizens), and in the midst of state's efforts to cut food stamp benefits, we wait for the dark clouds to pass, to yield to brighter skies.
[Jamal-Dominique Hopkins (Ph.D., University of Manchester, U.K.) is C.E.O. of the non-profit Christian think tank, the Institute for Advanced African American Christian Thought (IAAACT). A graduate also from Howard University and Fuller Theological Seminary, he is the author of Thinking Out Loud: Thoughts and Reflections on Life, Faith, Culture and Crisis (Journal Publication, 2013), and "Duty or Responsibility? The African American Evangelical's Identity" in the Journal of African American Christian Thought (2009). Hopkins is available for preaching, speaking or conducting workshops or seminars. To contact him or to contribute to IAAACT, visit www.iaaact.weebly.com.]