Humor for Jobless Grads

May 22, 1992

Bill Cosby had what you might call tough love for this year's graduates of the University of Maryland College Park. In his commencement address Tuesday, the actor and entertainer warned the class of 1992 that their employment prospects were bleak: "There are no jobs," he said. "You are well-educated and you're cute, but that's not going to cut it."

It was the kind of straight talk leavened with wit people have come to expect -- and accept -- from Mr. Cosby. Call it humor amid the horror. But it didn't make the truth any less painful. This year's grads, who entered college just as the dizzying boom of the '80s was reaching its height, are emerging at a time when the nation is struggling to recover from the worst recession in 40 years.

Unlike earlier economic downturns, which brought pain to blue-collar workers but left the middle class largely untouched, this recession has thrown hundreds of thousands of white-collar employees out of work, too. Those are exactly the kinds of jobs college students expect to get when they graduate. So now the class of 1992 finds itself competing in a weak job market with older, laid-off workers from the class of 1982.

Some in this year's graduating class probably recall that four years ago President Bush promised a Republican White House would oversee the creation of 20 million new jobs. Some may even have voted GOP that year hoping a diploma would mean a good job when they graduated. But the administration hasn't honored its promise: Fewer than a million new jobs have actually materialized since then, and a lot of them are low-paid drudgery in the service economy. No wonder today's grads are disillusioned with government and politicians.

Of course, for nearly half of American students who don't go to college at all, the outlook is even bleaker. Manufacturing and construction jobs that once provided a decent living for high school graduates are disappearing. At the same time, the downsizing of the U.S. military as the Cold War ends has closed off one of the last great avenues of upward mobility for non-college-educated youths.

"Welcome to the real world." That was the gist of Mr. Cosby's spiel. The class of '92 will learn soon enough how tough it is out here. At least let them also remember that, on their Commencement Day, the sad news was graced with good humor.

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