Megan McArdle had a stat the other day that was pretty depressing, related to the number of kids of middle class African-Americans that appear to fall back into poverty:
A chapter of the report released last fall found startling evidence
that a majority of black children born to middle-class parents grew up
to have lower incomes and that nearly half of middle-class black
children fell into the bottom fifth in adulthood, compared with 16
percent of middle-class white children
That is not good, though I am always suspicious of income statistics (for example, income statistics show me as close to or below the poverty line over the last few years, a function of an entrepreneurial startup).
Then I saw all the silly to-do about Michelle Obama's senior thesis at Princeton (I can't say I honestly even know what my wife's thesis was about). But what got me to thinking was the fact that as an African-American Ivy League student, she felt compelled to study and write her thesis about race. I started to remember a disproportionate number (but by no means all) of my middle-class African-American Ivy League acquaintances studied and wrote on the same thing - race. This means that while I was studying engineering, which had obvious value in the workplace, many blacks are studying a topic that has no marketplace value except to get a very low paying job in a non-profit somewhere. Which is all fine and good if that is what people want to do, but if blacks are worried their kids are not financially successful, they should consider whether its smart that, while other kids are studying subjects that will get them ahead, their kids are studying a subject that seems to focus mainly on explaining to them why they will never get ahead.
Update: I want to be careful not to call race / gender / group identity majors "worthless." Worthless is in the eye of the beholder, and if a student values such a course of study, then it has worth. However, by the same token, the student should be prepared for the fact that most of the world, particularly the subset called "hiring managers", does not value degrees in majors that have little practical application outside of academia and which have a reputation in general for having low academic standards. The student does not have to accept the rest of the world's judgement of her degree, but in turn the student can't demand that the rest of the world adopt hers.
In fact, when I made these comments, I didn't know Ms. Obama's choice of course of study. Knowing that now, it is even more amazing to me that she sees her student debt experience as an average data point indicating a structural flaw in the economy instead of the fact that she chose perhaps the most expensive college in the country and then chose to dedicate four years of study to a major that is nearly impossible to monetize in the job market.