The beginning of a new year is a time of reflection- what am I going to bring forward into the new year and what I am going to leave behind in the old year. Recently having celebrated a birthday and reaching the “I’m half-way done with law school” milestone, I have found myself reflecting more and more about where I stand as a young adult. While every human has that moment, or has the several moments, where they stop to think about where they are going and what they are doing with their lives, I feel like I spend most of my days pondering these questions. I know what you may be thinking- bring out the violins, another sob story (My comeback, however, is that this is no sob story, but a Saab story. Get it? A little homophone if you will). I largely attribute this feeling to the state of the economy , which at this point is an easy target and a catch-all reason to blame many of our sorrows upon.
However, my problem with the economy is not so much the scarcity of jobs- but the decreasing number of opportunities to follow your dreams, capitalize on your interests, or even develop a passion (I’ll elaborate more on this-just you wait). I recently read an expose in The Washington Post about the top fourteen college majors with the highest unemployment rates. Lucky for me, my liberal arts degree and my yet-to-be-completed Juris Doctor help me to occupy two of the fourteen categories for highest unemployment but I digress. Most of the majors in this list can be categorized as part of the social sciences and liberal arts. While the hard sciences like engineering and computer science did make the list, most of the majors with the highest unemployment rates were not of technical backgrounds.
With this in mind, I registered to attend the Center of American Progress’s presentation “Keeping the American Economy Competitive in the 21st Century.” At the presentation, Secretary of Commerce John Bryson unveiled the COMPETES Act report on U.S. economic competitiveness and innovation. The presentation was timed perfectly with President Obama’s announcement that 200,000 jobs had been created in the past month. The report was prepared by the Department of Commerce in consultation with the National Economic Council and addressed topics such as tax policy; general business climate in the U.S., regional issues such as the role of state and local governments in higher education; barriers to set up new firms; trade policy; and science and technology education. Some of the key conclusions of the report outlined the need to invest more money in research and development initiatives, including investment in higher education focused on science, technology, engineering an mathematics (STEM) as well as mediums for increased innovation.
The panelists spoke of innovation as being a key element of our economic success- but elaborating on a sense of stalled innovation in the American economy. For example, Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Chief Technology Officer, spoke of America inventing wireless broadband, but that most broadband headquarters are no longer in the U.S. There is no doubt that innovation and invention are the key cornerstone to economic success. Even Steve Jobs once said “innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower” and I believe him wholeheartedly- as I type away this blog post on my MacBook Pro, while holding my iPhone, and jamming out on my iTunes (loyal consumer is what you may call me). The report emphasized that by positioning American efforts on innovation, there will increased investment in STEM education, resulting in a greater demand for individuals in jobs within these fields. In order for America to move forward and continue to stay competitive in the global economy, it will need to be able to explore, invent, and create cutting edge technologies.
The presentation was excellent- I really enjoyed listening to the panelists and listening to their responses to questions I never would have thought to have posited myself. I did get to ask a question in the break-out session, where event attendees could ask questions to some of the researchers involved with the report. The question I posed was largely based on the Washington Post article I recently read. If our current economy is lagging because of high unemployment rates, but the highest unemployment rates come from fields not within the hard science background, why choose to invest our federal dollars in a sector that is not ailing? Can we stay competitive and keep our economy afloat by relying solely on innovation and R&D in technology? The response I received was that this report didn’t address that issue, but focused on the topics presented that day. I guess it wasn’t a bad answer- it was the truth, but it left me pondering and I hate to say this, but also a little disheartened. I had the Washington Post and the Department of Commerce telling me I probably would have been better off pursuing a different field of study. This is where I can clarify my statement about the economy- I genuinely enjoyed being a liberal arts major and I have always wanted to become a lawyer. To hear that things are moving in a direction that I am clearly moving the opposite of kind of stings. While things, I know, won’t come easy and perseverance and dedication always are rewarded- for now, I’ll just blame the economy.
About this Author: Maria Saab is a law student intern at Workplace Fairness. Her Bachelor of Arts in International Studies combined with her career experiences working on Capitol Hill and with Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 encouraged her to pursue law school. As a hopeful lawyer, she plans on specializing in regulatory law and hopes to one day concentrate her work efforts towards policy development.