The White-Collar Exodus?
Kurt Andersen, host of Studio 360 on NPR, is a journalist and the author of the novels Hey Day, Turn of the Century, The Real Thing, and his latest non-fiction book Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History. He has written and produced prime-time network television programs and pilots for NBC and ABC, and co-authored Loose Lips, an off-Broadway theatrical revue that had long runs in New York and Los Angeles. He is a regular columnist for New York Magazine, and contributes frequently to Vanity Fair. He is also a founder of Very Short List.
Andersen began his career in journalism at NBC's Today program and at Time, where he was an award-winning writer on politics and criminal justice and for eight years the magazine's architecture and design critic. Returning to Time in 1993 as editor-at-large, he wrote a weekly column on culture. And from 1996 through 1999 he was a staff writer and columnist for The New Yorker. He was a co-founder of Inside.com, editorial director of Colors magazine, and editor-in-chief of both New York and Spy magazines, the latter of which he also co-founded.
From 2004 through 2008 he wrote a column called "The Imperial City" for New York (one of which is included in The Best American Magazine Writing 2008). In 2008 Forbes. com named him one of The 25 Most Influential Liberals in the U.S. Media. Anderson graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College, and is a member of the boards of trustees of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the Pratt Institute, and is currently Visionary in Residence at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He lives with his family in New York City.
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
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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