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J D Smith

J D Smith
December 20
Married and in the heartland of the USA with little to say and nothing to say it with.


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JANUARY 24, 2012 5:28PM

"Yet Another Degree" and Preying On The Under-Employed

Rate: 11 Flag


an early view of the Mercantile Department Stores - circa 1898


The picture above speaks to beginnings. For a retailer, the Mercantile Department Stores, and for a couple of guys in the training program.

Sometimes beginnings have no answers. My friend sat in front of me, lost himself and seeking some advice from anywhere at all...anyone at all! 

Jeff was holding his cell phone in both hands in front of him, peering into the screen like it somehow might hold all of life’s answers in it.

“JD, I look back at the decisions I made now, and think that maybe I just fell for a scam; that they appealed to the desperation in me to get me to sign up.”

“Jeff, I’m not sure you can go that far,” even though the thought had crossed my mind a few times too.

“Now I’m out a couple grand or more, have nothing to show for it, and not a trace of dignity left either,” and with that, I saw the first tears I have ever witnessed on the face of my friend.



Jeff and I go way back.

Twenty years ago, we both worked in the management program for a middling retailer that would eventually run itself out of business, and were both going to Fairfield Ohio for management training that would help us be better merchants.

I was married all of 10 years, and Jeff was engaged at this time to a lovely young lady with the looks of a goddess and the charm of a rock.

But we had aspirations!

For me, it was the chance to make something of myself after going after an ill-fated degree in Geography with emphasis in cartography (mapping) that had the computer era pass me up before I could get established in the market.

For Jeff, it was the realization that being married to "rock-girl" meant he needed to make a lot more money than he presently was by simply painting houses. He had a degree in geography too, but had the same fate I did initially, and had to consider a career change.


 So we both took the retail path to personal wealth and success, and in the 1980’s, that path was still marked by low pay, but had both job security and upward mobility.

We moved through the 80s together, keeping tabs on one other, and competing to see who had the best sales numbers for a department on a month-by-month basis. I managed the men’s clothing department, and Jeff spent a lot of time managing men‘s accessories, so we were often together.  


In 1997 and 1998, Mercantile Stores got bought out, leaping around from owner to owner till eventually it all rolled up under Macys Department Stores. Jeff and I were out of work as management personal and were offered light severance packages as we were phased out over a period of a few months and told to "kindly leave please."


I landed lucky.

I got on with a big wholesaler/retailer that I have been with ever since, and slowly started to rebuild an off-track career.

It was a huge long shot at the time, but I got in. 


Jeff, on the other hand, had few options.

The turn of the century saw clothing retailers consolidating, as too many players were in the market and some had to fall out to make any sense at all. Add to that the starting of economic woes in the middle of the decade, and Jeff quickly piled up 7 years of no traction and low-end jobs in retail.


So in the process of feeling bad for himself, and feeling the pressure of a wife that had expected better and now was hinting at filing for divorce, Jeff sat in front of the TV one night and caught a commercial that spoke about “jump starting his career” by going back to college. It struck a chord!

He could go back to college, get a degree in a high demand field, and get his feet back under him, in the process saving his esteem and his marriage!


He talked to his wife, who basically said that “something had to give,” and enrolled that next week. 

This was in 2007 or 2008.



Jeff did not share this plan with his buddy J D, in part because we were still a bit competitive and because he was embarrassed to be "left behind" in the workplace. I certainly wish he had shared, although I am not sure I’d have told him anything that would have changed his mind.


He was going after something business related,…like Business Administration I think, and that kind of job was in high demand;…

.................just ask ANYONE in the university!!!! 

Jeff slowly but surely worked his way through classes, shelling out a lot of money in the process, and now has a degree from “WeGotYa” University, but came out of school right after the economy had already been down 12 straight months, and the recovery is looking more and more like a jobless one. 


Now he is sitting in front of me, with not one degree but two,….and not one job but none,….and I have to admit to wondering if an “additional” education was really worth anything to anybody but the university supplying it?

It is almost like these "higher education mushrooms" are sprouting up like fungii all over the place, preying on the economic downtrodden, and filling them with hope of a new direction, when (at least in the case of Jeff) the direction was still down. 


As for Jeff’s wife, “charming as a rock” has recently filed for dirorce and already has a boyfriend.

I think he is a professor somewhere.

Author tags:

underemployeed, sad story

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Can you tell I have a point of view??? Into the feed!
I know that men(And women) can be competitive and I understand even though I did not go to college. You guys are buds and that is good but the "Rock-Girl" obviously forgot about her vow of "in richer or poorer." Too bad on her I say. Rated with an Ila Smile of course. :-)
Jali : "Rock girl" had the vows changed I think..although I was not at the wedding. She was never a "one guy girl" I think...although Jeff would not necessarily agree.
";…just ask anyone in the university!"

~nodding~ If you ask a department which degree will pay off in the end, their's will!!!! ~:D

Tink : I am looking for you to scratch their degrees off of their walls...or the paper off of their....well...anyway.....THANKS!!!
...wondering if an “additional” education was really worth anything to anybody but the university supplying it? ...

My daughter...working hideous hours to take minibites out of her massive Masters Degree loans wonders this aloud constantly. We were raised to think that it was important to study, get the degree(s)...yeah, we bought into it all...But now, geez. I don't know...sure seems tough to see the benefit at least right now. rated!
J. D., you are talking to the proverbial guy that has more degrees than a thermometer. Sadly, I'm afraid you are onto something when you talk about how junior colleges, colleges and universities seem to have become purveyors of a dream that is just that--a dream.

As an aside, this thing about geography; in my first year as a guidance counselor in a little farm town in Wisconsin I also taught a geography class; not because I had a geography major or minor, but because I earned a grad of A in the geography class I took as a distribution requirement. Holy wah! Back in the days when a college degree meant something I remember on my graduation day my dad said to me: "I'm so glad that you are going to be a teacher. Now you won't have to work anymore." True story.
This sounds like just another story of misery (of too many) about a good person who decided to go to one of those for-profit universities. I feel for your friend. And so many others.
Is that you, JD? I remember your sweet drawing and now here's this tough dude. I will put this all over the feed...R too.
Higher education centers are being driven as profit centers and it's too bad. They have a lot to offer -- but not just going out and making people think one more degree will solve your problems. JD you do a great job of describing and capturing the plight of so many people in this economy. It's good your friend has you as a friend since he married a rock.....
It is a sad story, JD.

Many years back, we had a Prime Minister down here who is to this day often remembered for quoting George Bernard Shaw out of context when he said, "Life wasn't meant to be easy." That leaves me rather cold ... What? We should just accept that things are tough?

The full quote is actually ... "Life wasn't meant to be easy, my child, but take courage: it can be delightful!"

At least this gives some hope. Life doesn't seem fair sometimes ... and it is often not easy ... but it sure as heck could be helped a bit by business and government doing a bit to help make it 'delightful' ... not the right word I know ... but you get my drift, right? I know it's not their responsibility ... but business and government is made up of people ... just like you and I ... and just like Jeff. Why does it have to be every man and his dog for himself? Why are we so greedy?
Kate's comment is so right on. What can I say after something like hers?
Persistant Muse : Sounds like you are in the same place Jeff is. That realization is like a shot in the gut!

John : And the dream may now be more fantasy!!!
Mary : Sure seems like a lot of others have struggled with this too!!!

Zuma : Tough??? Me???? Not so much...
I was never required to take any for any job I held. I can't imagine how bummed I'd feel if I did and was unemployed in spite of it.
MH : He married a real find..that I will tell you!

LK : I agree that life often does not seem fair..and I suspect it is a truth...heck...I KNOW it is a truth. It is what we do with this knowledge that I think may matter most.

Fusuna : Katie does seem to have a way with words!! And so do you!!!
Buffy : It is definately devastating!!!
Very wrenching account, JD. I just read that the online for-profit University of Phoenix racked up $3.8 billion in revenues in 2009, with 86% of that coming from federal funds, primarily Stafford Loans and Pell Grants. (http://financemymoney.com/the-profits-of-education). This is a grotesque example of "socializing the costs and privatizing the profits". Almost all the private, for-profit centers of education that have sprung up like mushrooms are completely dependent on public funds. Over the last 30 years, costs of higher education have soared faster than even health care costs, increasing by 425% as a percentage of median household income. Yet I still hear commentators on the MSM speaking as if a lack of educated workers is the primary cause of unemployment. The human cost of this lie cannot be calculated. It can only be brought home through personal stories like this, one by one. [R]
DD : Great facts to a bit of a hidden problem. A degree for the sake of a degree is not the same thing as a degress as leverage to be employeed!