The Kids Are (not) Alright

Occupy Portland assembled just outside my front door earlier today, at a rally/walkout for Portland State University students.  As you can see, it was reasonably well attended, and eventually led to a march on, appropriately enough for debt-saddled students, the Bankruptcy Court, I’m not sure which one. Though I left as the march departed,  I could hear the chants of, “Who’s streets?  Our streets!” from the 13th floor as they marched down Broadway in the chilly rain.

Speakers at the rally, who included members of student government, spoke about 99% topics keenly relevant to college kids: rising tuition, crippling student debt, and the worst job market since the Great Depression.  It occurred to me that for a generation with no living relatives from the 1930′s, this is their Depression, and in some ways it’s worse.  PSU has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years; it’s now the largest University in Oregon, pressed up against downtown on one side and the 405 freeway on the other, literally bursting at the seams.  Saddled with the crappy architecture and low density of a small school that came to being after WWII, PSU has recently enlisted private, for-profit developers to build and operate huge new dormitories, which are certain to cost a lot more than those spartan, old-fashioned publicly owned ones.  It has turned to actively recruiting (rich) foreign students whom, although they do subsidize locals with their higher tuition, also create a visible class divide with their fancy cars, clothes, and bank accounts.

If ever there were a rich vein of untapped class anxiety for Occupy to tap, PSU students would fit the bill.  They’re paying through the nose for degrees from a third-tier school in an economy so awful they can’t find decent summer jobs, let alone decent-paying careers when they graduate.  They’re entering a job market where experienced 20 and 30-somethings are ahead of them in line for even the lowest entry-level work, and all indicators point to thing getting worse, long before they get better.

Perhaps that explains the heavy police presence (on friendly Portland bikes) for an event that, compared to what went before, was pretty tame and small; evidence that even the cops understand that these kids no longer have much to lose and might snap, just like those in Egypt.  Or Israel.  Or, looking only slightly ahead, most of Europe.  When I got out of college in the mid-80′s, salaries for “real” jobs were so low that it took several years before I made as much money as I had working in restaurants while in school, but there were jobs to be had, in both instances.  Most had benefits, too, even part time.  An 18 or 19 year old today has never known such a luxurious economy, one that would let a teenage kid bus tables in a fancy restaurant where they might actually make money; now they’ve got people with Masters degrees applying every day.  Thus, the money young people can’t make in their spare time must be borrowed, like their astronomical tuition, from their futures.

Worse, graduates are forced, whatever their interests and preferences, to take soul-destroying jobs to pay down such debt; we have one of the finest “environmental” law schools in the country here at Lewis and Clark, but most graduates end up working for Exxon or Monsanto, not The Sierra Club.  The 1% have these kids trapped either way, a fact of which I’m sure they’re proud.   I’m glad to see that the kids seem to get it; there’s nothing like a Depression to focus the mind.

6 Comments

  1. Annice says:

    Thanks CHNN for keeping us updated on the Occupy! Glad to see the numbers are growing. Do they plan on staying at PSU?

  2. cocktailhag says:

    Nah, they were just doing a march. The next one is tomorrow morning at the Steel Bridge, but I expect (so far) to be at work.

  3. michlib says:

    The BIG difference between the thirties and our latest downturn – the Government back then served the 99%ers. Not so much anymore.

    • cocktailhag says:

      It was a brief moment, now gone. Another difference? People with college degrees were much rarer back then, and they could get what few decent jobs were available; my grandfather being one example of many. Only the less educated working class were truly fucked.
      Now, it’s people with PhD’s. That’s gotta hurt, and make his different.

  4. There are sure to be a raft of articles out on what’s going to happen to OWS now that their collective heads are being cracked-down-upon. Hope the Portland group hangs in.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Well, “even the liberal Willamette Week” is sounding a lot like the Oregonian these days; talking about the smells and such. It’s pretty sad, but I don’t see a new avenue of visibility, at least here. Pray for NY.