A recent article in the Washington Post highlighted a particular segment of the nation’s struggling unemployed. That is in itself is not surprising. After all, black unemployment exceeds the unemployment level for handicapped people and many other challenged groups within our nation. The group that the Post profiled was people with Ph.D.s in the sciences. An increasing number of chemists, biologists and other scientists who have invested heavily in their education are finding themselves jobless. Of those who are employed, thousands are doing lower-wage “post-doc” work in laboratories, as opposed to heading up research projects or teaching in universities.
I have always believed that education is one of the vital keys to upward mobility and overcoming poverty. Ph.D. unemployment however, is a startling fact for African Americans who have been taught that education is the great racial equalizer. They have been encouraged to sell or sacrifice almost anything to achieve the highest levels of education. The Washington Post, however, shows us that the most sought-after Ph.D.s may not be the great career makers. Those who are advising today’s students often imply that a college or graduate degree is some sort of financial guarantee. The Post article noted the loud clamoring by groups like the National Science Foundation and the current administration for more American students to pursue advanced degrees in the sciences.
These groups fail to mention that highly-trained students may not find jobs in their field when they finish their degrees.
I’ll never forget a discussion I had with my father at the ripe old age of 12 years. He told me that he was not going to give me a traditional inheritance. He informed me that there would be no money left. Instead, he would give me my inheritance now. My inheritance would be in the form of him financing my entire education as far as I chose to go. The only thing that he asked in return was that I would commit myself to being the best I could be at whatever career path I chose. I thank God for his wisdom and because of his guidance I excelled in a private high school, a private college and in Ivy League graduate school. I will never forget that somebody had to pay for my schooling and I will never forgot that Dad had to work very hard to pay it off.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.