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Making It Work

Eddie, one of my hosts in a small Georgia town called Lithia Springs, has a bachelor’s degree in history, and wants to go back to school to get a Ph.D. in German history. He is about the same age as the young man profiled in this New York Times article last year.

The young man profiled by the Times was, when the story came out, unemployed and living with his parents. The article was supposed to make us feel sorry for this able-bodied 24-year-old who “spent his mornings searching corporate Web sites for suitable job openings.” The American Dream, said the article, is “elusive” for his generation.

Any sympathy I could have had for this college graduate vanished only three paragraphs into the story, when I read that “after several interviews, the Hanover Insurance Group in nearby Worcester offered to hire him as an associate claims adjuster, at $40,000 a year. But even before the formal offer, Mr. Nicholson had decided not to take the job.”

It turns out that, “rather than waste early years in dead-end work, he reasoned, he would hold out for a corporate position that would draw on his college training and put him, as he sees it, on the bottom rungs of a career ladder.”

Pathetic. Here is a man in his 20s, at the peak of his youth and strength, sitting in his parents’ home, whining about being unemployed. I have no patience for people who make a choice and then complain about it.

Let’s get back to Eddie. As I mentioned, he, too, is a young college graduate. So are his roommates. Yet they don’t live with their parents, and they’re the opposite of unemployed. They work six days a week in construction. The young historian also happens to be a plumber.

I asked Eddie what skills I would need in order to get a job with his company. None, it turns out, if I’m willing to start at the bottom. This gave me peace of mind. At least I know now that if I run out of cash (and I am beginning to run low) I can probably stop somewhere for a couple of months, and save up the money I need to keep on walking.

Eddie and his roommates all have bigger plans for the future. He expressed a certain fear that he will be “stuck” working construction for the rest of his life, but he dismissed it quickly, and told me about the graduate programs he’s looking into, which would allow him to spend some time studying in Germany.

I see as much virtue in these young men’s attitude toward work as I see vice in the subject of the Times article. The former are doing what they need to do. They have ambition, and they’re making it work. They are grown-ups—they know that in order to get ahead in life and do what they really want to do, they need to work and save money. And they’re willing to take the jobs that are available. I hope I cross paths with more people like Eddie and his roommates. I would love to write that being an American means having their kind of attitude—not the Times guy’s.

Constantino Diaz-Duran is a fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University. He is chronicling his walk from New York to Los Angeles to celebrate his eligibility for American citizenship. Follow Constantino’s progress.