THE BLOG
10/17/2012 04:00 pm ET | Updated Dec 17, 2012

A Letter to Jeremy

Dear Jeremy,

First, congratulations for having the courage and presence to get up there and ask a tough question on live TV in front of half the country. And I'm not saying this in the usual condescending way of these kinds of things; I'm actually not sure I could have done that as well as you did.

I'm writing because, to be frank, I thought you got pretty bum and pandering answers to your question. Since I am slightly older than you but can still very much relate to being in your shoes, I wanted to offer you a few pieces of advice that I have learned through the years that I hope don't come across as condescending.

First, don't look to the president for a job. The way that politicians and the media and lots of other smart people who really should know better talk about it, it's like the president goes into the White House machine room every night, pulls some levers, and if all goes well, manufacturing jobs pop out somewhere in Cleveland. Well that's kind of the way things work under socialism, where the leader is also a central planner. But unless I missed a memo somewhere along the way, here in the United States we have a market economy that is governed by the law of supply and demand. The job (no-pun intended) of the government, which the president incidentally only controls part of, is to help facilitate an orderly set of rules to govern transactions, to provide for national defense, and to help people who might otherwise fall through the cracks, not to "create" jobs (and this is not simply providing an excuse for Obama -- love him or hate him, he is as guilty of perpetuating this myth as anyone).

Second, if you really want to be assured of a job, get a PhD. The unemployment rate for those with a doctoral degree in 2011 was 2.5 percent. This speaks to a larger truth that no politician wants to mention. The truth is that technology has reduced the demand for some kinds of largely unskilled work, because we now have machines and robots that can do a lot of this automatically. Thus, while the U.S. produces about three times as many manufactured goods as it did in 1970, the number of Americans employed in manufacturing jobs during this time has fallen from 18.5 million in 1970 to 12 million today (at a time when the population increased). This is why the unemployment rate for those with less than a high school diploma -- the kind of people that in the past would have gotten good factory jobs -- is now 14.1 percent, while the unemployment rate for those with a bachelor's degree or more is well under 5 percent.

Third, choose your career wisely. You might be interested to know -- since you still have two years of college left -- that the unemployment rate varies significantly by industry. It is under 6 percent for those that work in the government, in energy, in finance, and in education and health. It is above 9 percent for those in leisure and hospitality, in construction, and in agriculture. If you have a passion you should go for it regardless, but if getting a job is your primary focus than you can't assume that there will be demand for just any kind of skill; the marketplace is cold and cruel like that...

Finally, start saving some money as soon as you can. Just as you can't look to the government for a job, people in our generation increasingly cannot look to it for our retirements. You might have heard it mentioned just a few times last night that the government has to borrow huge amounts of money every year to pay its bills. Well it has also promised some $70 trillion more in benefits than it is capable of paying, and neither political candidate has any kind of feasible plan to tackle this gap. In fact, it is kind of a mockery of our entire system that no one is even seriously addressing the issue. So don't assume Social Security or Medicare will be there when you need it. The good thing is that if you start saving now, you will have 40 years for your money to compound before you need it. If you need any help with that, you can check out my book.

Thanks Jeremy, and congrats again on your big moment; if nothing else pans out you can always try to flip it into a career as a reality-show mini-celebrity.

Sincerely,

Alex