The White-Collar Exodus?

While corporate culture has long attracted talented graduates with the promise of status and security, Kurt Andersen believes that our era’s sense of urgency and instability is pushing America’s youth into a variety of new professions.
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TRANSCRIPT

Question: Why do you think talented people are shying away from office jobs? 

Kurt Andersen: Because they don't look like such a sure thing. Because they don't look so easy. There are fewer of them, suddenly, for one thing. And I think now for a whole generation or two of people to whom, "Oh, a job on Wall Street. Oh, a job at a bank; that looks like an easy way to make my pile quickly then get out and do what I really want to do." That, I think, in the last year has proven that that is not such an easy way to go and that indeed following ones passions is ultimately a surer bet, which isn't to say that people still won't -- I mean, people who actually like being in finance, great. They can still do that. But I think there are -- I know that there have been a lot of people over the last twenty years or so who went into those jobs simply because it seemed, and was, an easy way to make a lot of money.

Question: Where do you see the best and brightest going?

Kurt Andersen: Well a lot of the best and the brightest are doing things like Teach for America and trying to become teachers. I mean, in terms of metrics that are available to us, you can look at that and say, "My God, one in nine Ivy League seniors signs up for Teach for America?" Are they turning away several for every spot they have? So that in a more than anecdotal way is where you can say, "Yeah, there's a lot of best and brightest young people going there." But in terms of for this radio show I do, this public radio show I do, still do at “360,” we have, again, I would say ten applicants for every intern that we can take on. And we're paying them barely a dime. So I see best and brightest people going into the arts and in my little window on the world.

Question: Why do you feel this is happening?

Kurt Andersen: Well I think people are understanding, among other things, with the shake-out of the last year that nothing is a sure thing and that a truck could hit us tomorrow, a recession could happen tomorrow, God knows what will happen tomorrow. So let's really try to figure out what it is we love and gives us satisfaction and go for that because Lord knows nothing else is for sure.

Recorded on: October 13, 2009