For New Grads, Activism Doesn’t Pay the Bills

No one goes into a career in activism thinking they’ll make the
big bucks. In fact, most people who enter socially conscious fields
have reckoned with the reality of sacrificing meaty paychecks for
fulfilling work. Recent college graduates, however, are finding the
trade-off simply untenable as they slide deeper into a pit of
college debt. And they’re getting little help from the progressive

Writing for
In These Times, Adam Doster reports
that by neglecting the economic plight of recent graduates,
progressive leaders and activists are missing out on the
‘opportunity to utilize the ideology, size, and energy of the
post-graduate generation.’ Doster notes that ‘college tuition
has outpaced family income for the past 15 years,’ forcing more
students to take on the financial burden themselves via loans.
The average college graduate accrues nearly three-and-a-half
times more debt than their counterparts did ten years ago,
according to figures Doster cites from the Center for American

For graduates fresh out of college and saddled with exorbitant
loan payments, a career in progressive activism can mean anything
from years of sacrifice to near financial ruin. Among the few
accessible jobs for progressive youths are those offered by large
canvassing campaigns. Doster references the work of Dana R. Fisher,
professor of sociology at Columbia University and author of the
book Activism, Inc., who found that the
canvassing industry — a backbone of progressive, grass-roots
outreach — is exploiting young canvassers. Since the late 90s,
Fisher says, many progressive campaigns have been outsourced to
intermediary organizations, which focus on the ‘bottom line’
instead of building local connections and developing the leadership
abilities of their young employees. 

Adding to the barriers, Doster finds that lefty think tanks
primarily offer unpaid or low-wage internships in expensive cities
like New York City or Washington, DC. With no prospect of financial
sustainability, it’s no surprise that these career-building paths
usually attract wealthier applicants, while thwarting the bids of
minorities and economically challenged graduates.

To be fair, as Jamilah King of
Wiretap magazine points out, ‘many
socially conscious organizations are run on paper-thin budgets that
don’t allow them to offer stipends to their interns.’ And King
acknowledges that entering the job market while balancing one’s
financial burdens and social conscience is a difficult task. Yet
there are some feasible options out there, and King points young
people to them with a short list of available opportunities that
allow graduates to put their progressive passion to use doing
socially conscious work, without going broke in the process.

Go there >>
When College Ends, So Does Activism

Go there, too >>
Work for Change

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