Recession May Haunt U.S. For Years

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Read Don Peck's Piece For The Atlantic, "How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America"

Don Peck of The Atlantic predicts this era of joblessness will cripple marriage as we know it, devastate inner cities and define the character of a generation of young adults. Peck and the New York Times' Steven Greenhouse talk about how the recession is changing the nation.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

After two terrible years, the U.S. economy is growing again. Money from last year's stimulus package continues to fund projects around the country, a new jobs bill is in the works in Congress, but unemployment still hovers around 10 percent. Under-employment is even worse. Many experts believe we won't get back to five percent unemployment for years. Some say, maybe not ever.

And as more and more Americans spend more and more time out of work, we could start to see some important and long-lasting effects. In an article in The Atlantic, Don Peck reports that this new era of joblessness, quote, will likely change the life, course and character of a generation of young adults, leave an indelible imprint on many blue-collar white men and on white culture and cripple marriage as an institution in many communities.

It may already be plunging many inner cities into a kind of despair and dysfunction not seen for decades, and it is likely to warp our politics, our culture and the character of society for years.

So how has your town, your community, your family changed, whether you have a job or not. Tell us your story. Our phone number, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. Thats at npr.org. Just click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, on the Opinion Page, the origin, meaning and utility of sell-by, best-by and use-by dates that are stamped on perishable foods, but first, Don Peck, the deputy managing editor of The Atlantic joins us here in the studio. His piece, "How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America," appears in the March issue, and nice to have you on the program today.

Mr.�DON PECK (Managing Editor, The Atlantic; Author, "How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America"): It's a pleasure to be here, Neal.

CONAN: And this new era of joblessness, I wanted to ask you about some of these changes that you're reporting on, I guess sequentially. The life, course and character of a generation of young adults?

Mr. PECK: Yes, well, unemployment is, of course, a problem everywhere. It's particularly high among young people. For teenagers, just the narrowest measure of unemployment stands at about 27 percent right now. It's very young for people - it's very high for people in their 20s, as well. And really, what all of the economic research shows is that the first couple of years when people come on to the job market are very, very important to...

CONAN: You're writing after high school or after college.

Mr. PECK: After high school or after college, exactly - are very important to their entire career thereafter, and if people don't find solid roots in the job market in the first year or two, it really does change the course of their career, typically. They get labeled as low potential, and that's a very, very difficult label to break.

Lisa Kahn(ph) at Yale has done a lot of research which has indicated that people that come out of school in recession, even if they do find work immediately, it's at a lower level, at lower pay, and they never close the gap - even five, 10, 15, 20 years later, through booms and busts - they never fully close the gap with graduates who've come out in more bountiful times.

CONAN: And that's, of course, statistically. Of course, there are individual exceptions, but...

Mr. PECK: Of course.

CONAN: But you also write about a phenomenon called funemployment, that this is becoming so standard among young people that it's no longer the stain it used to be.

Mr. PECK: Well, yeah, you know, when I started reporting for this piece, I - my expectation was that young people would be spared the worst scars of this recession. You know, as marriage and children have receded, the 20s have become arguably a more carefree time. And a lot of people coming out of school who've experienced a rough job market I think have tried to make the best of it, and I think that's really what funemployment is all about.

You know, I think these are kids who are, you know, recognizing that they don't have that many responsibilities and also recognizing, as you said, that the stigma of job loss or unemployment is much lower, given that it's so high right now.

So they're trying to make the best of a bad circumstance, but again, ultimately, if this recession continues, if jobs are slow to come back, I think you'll see that sort of savoir faire change a bit to frustration and bitterness. And in fact, in my reporting, I found that happening already.

CONAN: And indeed that there - because of the way this echo-boom generation or millennials or whatever you want to call them, was raised, you say, because these are the children whose self-esteem was built up very carefully by parents and schools, that indeed self-esteem unconnected to actual connected to actual achievement creates a problem.

Mr. PECK: Yeah, this is a generation that's really been told throughout childhood that they're special, that they're destined for great things. As you say, self-esteem, often divorced from performance, has been emphasized in school curricula and in parenting.

And, you know, on one level, just psychologically, that makes this a very, very difficult time for this generation. I believe, in a national survey in 1999, about 80 percent of teens describe themselves as very intelligent. About 40 percent expected to be making $75,000 or more by the time they were 30. So this is a generation with very high expectations. It's a generation...

CONAN: To coin a phrase, where all the children are above average.

Mr. PECK: Exactly. All the children are above average, and they all expect to do very well materially and also to have work tailored to their interests and their lifestyles.

So it's a very difficult adjustment for...

CONAN: Turning down jobs that they don't consider good enough and then finding difficulty getting jobs they're interested in.

Mr. PECK: Yeah, the president of the University of Connecticut, at least year's commencement, found the phenomenon of students there turning jobs without alternatives because they didn't think the jobs were good enough so pervasive that he actually addressed it in the commencement speech.

And I talked to someone at career services at UConn who said that about a third of the seniors that he's dealt with, they're not even engaging with the job market. They're just planning on moving home and trying to wait the recession out.

Everything we know about the importance of the first couple of years in the job market would indicate that that's a big mistake.

CONAN: So let's start getting some callers in on the conversation. We'll go through those other categories as we progress through the program, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. James(ph) is on the line, calling from Dunbar in Kentucky.

JAMES (Caller): Hi (unintelligible), how are you doing?

CONAN: Hi, James, good, thanks.

JAMES: Well, I'm just calling just to give you my story real quick. I am from Dunbar, Kentucky. I was a fireman and a medic for four years before I was involved in a structural collapse in 2005, right before Hurricane Katrina, which I was supposed to be involved with the relief effort in that.

And I went back to college, and I'm going to be getting my degree in communications in the spring, and I'm very excited about that. But the one thing I'm not really excited about is just looking around at the job market and not seeing a whole lot of opportunities out there, and also, a lot of things that I look at, they always want experience. And I just don't know how to get experience without anybody willing to give me experience.

CONAN: Well, typically, what kind of a job would be ideal for you, would you say?

JAMES: I am just looking - I really enjoy working with television and doing things with television and making cartoons, but I've also taken lots of different classes with radio and advertising and just your basic communications class. So I like to feel that I've got a pretty good playing field to go out there and do a lot of things in communications.

CONAN: Well, James, we wish you the best of luck. Thanks very much for the call.

JAMES: Thank you very much. I will listen to you guys now.

CONAN: Okay, bye-bye. It's interesting. Obviously, the television industry, communications field that he's talking about - undergoing vast changes at the moment.

Mr. PECK: Absolutely. It's a very, very difficult time to break into that field, unfortunately.

CONAN: Yeah, and indeed, one of the things you found, not necessarily with -we're not talking about James individually, but in fact if he can't find a job right away, the skills that he learned in college will begin to erode, and it will be more difficult to get a job.

Mr. PECK: Yeah, again, new graduates face a really tough squeeze right now because on the one hand, there are people with quite a lot of experience who are out of work and are looking for lateral job switches or even fairly low-level jobs, and then they've got new graduates coming up behind them, as well.

So it's tough to find a good job. It gets harder over time, and if they don't find work in a year or two, as you said, the skills begin to erode. People -that's true at the beginning of one's career. It's true in mid-career, too. And you know, in the U.K. in the 1980s, joblessness was high enough for long enough that there was a phenomenon where when the economy finally got better, employers wanted to start rehiring people en masse, and they found that a lot of people were no longer qualified for the work that they once did well. That's a real risk in this.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller in. Let's go next to - this is Genevieve(ph), Genevieve with us from Orlando.

GENEVIEVE (Caller): Hi, yes, my call today is concerning more - being a displaced worker myself, I decided to go back to school, and although my husband currently has his - he kept his employment, he is going to school, as well.

We have teenage children who are about to go off to college in the next couple years, and you know, with the reports being what they are and them seeing me out of work, unable to find work, to try to keep them encouraged to go ahead and go off to college as opposed to trying to stay home and, you know, try to find some type of work at home.

CONAN: I'm hearing state school, Genevieve, somehow. That's echoing there.

GENEVIEVE: Yes, it is.

CONAN: Genevieve's situation, again, not unusual. Two-earner households. She's going to school so she can hope to get a better job, and her husband is going to school and working, and they've got kids coming up to go to school. Boy, that's tough.

Mr. PECK: It is, absolutely. One potential silver lining, though, of this recession is that people might be encouraged - not necessarily people at mid-career, but young people might be encouraged to stay in school longer, and you know, that works up to a point. That's going to benefit those kids if they can go to college, stay in college, stay in high school. So that, at least, is one small silver lining, I think, of this recession potentially.

CONAN: Genevieve, we with you the best of luck.

GENEVIEVE: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go on to another category: indelible imprint on many blue-collar white men and on white culture. Now, men we've heard -manufacturing jobs have been hit very hard in this recession. They've been disproportionately affected. So is that what you're talking about here?

Mr. PECK: Absolutely. You know, this has been called the mancession, and that's quite accurate. Two-thirds - excuse me, three-quarters of all job losses in this recession have been to men, and that is because construction, manufacturing and finance have all been hit very hard. Those are male-dominated industries. The service sectors have not been hit as hard, where, you know, women tend to work more.

But this is really the continuation of a long-term trend. You know, we've seen, over a number of decades, service jobs becoming more prevalent, manufacturing jobs falling. And you know, generally that's been pretty good for women who have continued to enter the workforce and who've thrived.

It hasn't been so good for men. And when men are out of work for a long period of time, it - you know, it's lousy for them, obviously. It's lousy for their families. It creates a lot of social problems over time: strained marriages...

CONAN: Redefined families. You talk about women taking on much bigger roles within the families, decision-making roles which they may like but which clearly change the balance of power with the men.

Mr. PECK: Yeah, you know, as much as we like to think that marriage is modern right now, and of course, it is becoming ever more modern, tensions rise when men aren't working in a marriage or even when they're working less than women.

Women do tend to take more responsibility, not just financial, but for children, and men actually don't pick up the slack, on average, as to housework when they're not working. So marriages tend to sour kind of quickly when men aren't working for long periods of time, and divorces rise.

CONAN: We're talking with Don Peck, deputy managing editor of The Atlantic about his piece, "How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America." Well, how has this jobless era affected you, whether you have a job or not, your family, your community? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. This is NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

There are signs of an uptick in the economy, but in many parts of the country, little has changed for the better. Unemployment remains stubbornly high, under-employment even higher. Economists are divided over when, if ever, we will fully recover.

We're talking, today, about the far-reaching effects of recession, who gets left behind, how that is going to change us. How has your town, your community, your family changed, whether you have a job or not? Tell us your story, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. And you can also join the conversation on our Web site. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Our guest is Don Peck, deputy managing editor at The Atlantic, who wrote the cover story in the March edition. And joining us now from our bureau in New York is Steven Greenhouse. We've been discussing this recession with him from time to time, ever since it started. Steve, nice to have you with us again.

Mr.�STEVEN GREENHOUSE (Reporter, New York Times; Author, "The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker"): Nice to be here, Neal.

GROSS: Steve Greenhouse covers labor and workplace issues for the Times. He wrote the book "The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker." And Don Peck's piece in the upcoming issue of the Atlantic, Steve, it seems to put -well, it's not happy reading, but it seems to put a lot of numbers in context.

Mr.�GREENHOUSE: I think Don wrote a terrific piece. I congratulate him on it. I recommend listeners read it. It is depressing. Things ain't great out there, and where I think Don's piece makes a major contribution is, more than other things I read, it really explains the implications, ramifications, of all this huge unemployment of all this joblessness and how it will affect the mood of the nation, the talk of the...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�GREENHOUSE: The mood of the nation, ambitions of young people, you know, family structures, divorce, marriage, and - I feel in ways that I passed the baton in writing my book about tough times for the American worker, and Don has kind of picked up the baton and taken it in new directions.

CONAN: Well, you go out and talk to a lot of workers around the country. That's part of your job, and I wonder, you're seeing a lot of the trends he's talking about?

Mr.�GREENHOUSE: Yes, absolutely, and you know, some of these trends were already happening before the recession hit, you know, in towns like, you know, Buffalo or Milwaukee or Flint, Michigan, or Dayton, you know, places that - you know, manufacturing centers that were already really hit badly, many men - and especially men but also women - were really kind of, you know, feeling some economic shell shock. They were laid and they're - they've been having a hard time finding work.

You know, we had a front-page story a few years ago about shell-shocked blue-collar men who were laid off or having, you know, making very little money, and they were scared to get married. They didn't feel they had the financial wherewithal or the spirit to get married, and I think where Don's article is very valuable is a lot of what was happening in locally depressed areas like Milwaukee or Buffalo, you know, has really extended around the nation.

And I think a few years ago, if you were in Buffalo or Flint or Detroit, you though, well, I could just move south or to the Southwest and find other jobs, and things will be right again. But now there's not that escape hatch to just move to another city because things are pretty bad throughout the nation.

CONAN: Well, one of things I found - I'm sorry to say this, Don - most depressing about your article, the idea, we're a nation that believes in resilience, that young people are resilient, that indeed the American economy is resilient, that somewhere out there in a garage or a basement somewhere, someone's inventing the new technology that's going to create millions of new jobs, like the computer industry did not so long ago, and that all of this is going to be solved by some innovation.

Mr.�PECK: Right, well, and you know, that's typically one of the things that's helped lift us out of recession. When people are laid off in large numbers, you know, a lot of people form new firms and develop technologies and ideas that were - that had been stifled by corporate bureaucracies.

Unfortunately, there are some reasons to believe that we're not well-placed right now for a technological boom. Technological innovation has really been fairly low throughout the last decade, and to some extent, that was simply covered up by the housing boom.

And there's an economist by the name of Edmund Phelps at Columbia. He won the Nobel Prize for his work on the natural unemployment rate. He believes that -that's exactly what he believes. He believes that the U.S. is simply not well-placed for an innovation boom right now, due to a number of factors. I can get into them if you'd like.

But, you know, his takeaway is that because we haven't been innovative for the past few years and look unlikely to become innovative again rapidly. The new floor for unemployment, even once we recover from this recession, is likely to be between six and a half and seven and a half percent, not the five percent we've been used to.

CONAN: And that five percent you talk - that's where unemployment is an economic lubricant, as you describe it. That's the normal churn of events, and at that level, people can find new jobs fairly quickly. You write at just now, the average period of unemployment going past six months.

Mr.�PECK: Exactly, yeah. I mean, some level of unemployment is necessary in an economy. It is a lubricant for growth, and you know, and it's not a problem, typically, when there are enough jobs coming open that people can find work easily.

What's really damaging is longer-term or chronic unemployment, and as you said, you know, the average duration of unemployment has passed six months now. It's the highest it's been since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started tracking the number in 1948, and chronic unemployment is a plague on society, on people. It's psychologically about the worst thing that can happen, equivalent to the death of a spouse in its impact on one's mental well-being.

So it's a very different animal, and that's why, you know, unemployment at 10 percent or even eight percent or seven percent, you know, it's very different than unemployment at five percent because it typically contains a much larger number of people who have been out of work for a long, long time and just can't find job.

CONAN: Let's get another caller in. This is John(ph), John with us from Rockford, Illinois.

JOHN (Caller): Great show, very interesting topic.

CONAN: Thanks.

JOHN: Just a quick story and then a question. So I am way over-educated, and I have been working my butt off for my entire life. It's got a masters of literature, I've got an MBA. I've got more Microsoft certifications than I can shake a stick at, and I'm still working my keister off to make ends meet.

I teach classes at libraries. I have six computers, and currently, I've done the ridiculous thing of going back to school to actually pass my MCAT and get into medical school.

And that's the statement. The question is: What did these baby-boomer parents fill their kids' heads with to make them believe it was going to be a piece of cake? It's not. It's work, and that should be the American ethic, not this, you know, this ethic of it's all going to come to me. That's what drives me crazy about the 20-somethings.

CONAN: I'm not sure that the baby-boomer parents told their kids it was going to be a piece of cake. They told them: You can be anything you want to be. It's your dream. Live your dream. And Steven Greenhouse, sometimes those dreams come - are very expensive and hard to get and very difficult to achieve.

Mr.�GREENHOUSE: Yeah, John, it's one thing when the employment rate is four or five percent for the parents to tell their kids don't sweat it, there'll be jobs out there, you don't have to have a nervous breakdown worrying about jobs. It's another thing when the unemployment is 10 percent. Then, no matter how much you encouraged your kids, and no matter how well-prepared, they're probably going to face a hard time in the job market.

I was thinking about what...

JOHN: I agree, but I don't see any of these kids, you know, picking up a shovel or learning to drive a truck. If I have to do that, you know, great, I'll do it.

Mr.�GREENHOUSE: I see a lot of kids working very, very hard to get jobs, and some I see are willing to pick up a shovel, but there are a lot of laid-off 40-and 50-year-olds who have a lot of experience picking up shovels, and they often get first dibs on those jobs.

JOHN: Good point.

CONAN: Don Peck?

Mr.�PECK: Yeah, I mean, I agree. Certainly, you know, it's hard to apply very broad labels to an entire generation, and of course, there's tremendous diversity of character.

CONAN: And of course parents for generations have told kids to...

Mr.�PECK: Of course. I mean, self-esteem has become a more important goal in school curriculum, for parents. But I mean, I think one thing that young people are struggling with doesn't have to do so much with self-esteem or the idea that they need the perfect job.

Children also have increasingly structured childhoods, and they do get a lot of parental help. And you know, Ron Alsop is a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal. He wrote an interesting book called "The Trophy Kids Grow Up," where he interviewed a lot of employers on how they were dealing with this generation as they came into the market.

This was before the recession started, and what he found is that employers told him that these are kids that are used to checklists, and you know, they're not terribly independent, many of them are not particularly entrepreneurial. And so to some extent, I think you've got a lot of young people who, I mean, they want to work, they're in theory willing to make sacrifices, but they don't know quite what to do.

I mean, that's very natural in this situation, but I think it's particularly true of this generation.

CONAN: And again, broad characterization. Many, many individuals...

Mr.�PECK: Of course, of course.

CONAN: John, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it.

JOHN: Appreciate it.

Mr.�GREENHOUSE: Can I just chime in?

CONAN: Go ahead, Steven Greenhouse.

Mr.�GREENHOUSE: I read those remarks by Alsop in your piece, Don, and I really wonder whether, you know, this young generation is seriously less entrepreneurial, serious less of go-getters than the generation 10 or 15 years older or their parents' generation.

I see a lot of kids out there who are starting their own Web sites, who are, you know, starting their own consulting businesses, helping people with computers. So I think there are a lot of young people who are eager to make things happen, and yes, just as in my generation, you know, there are some people who need to take instructions and follow checklists.

So I think it's a little simplistic to say, you know, this generation are not a bunch of go-getters.

CONAN: Well, I was just going to say the one statistic though that really did interest me is the very high percentage of who thought they were going to make a living as writers, artists, musicians

Mr. PECK: Yeah. You know, the - I don't know. I mean, I - again, I don't want to speak too confidently here. And the last thing I want to do is tar a generation in any way. I mean, there is tremendous variation in people of every generation. You know, we do know from surveys - you know, Jean Twenge who is a psychologist at San Diego State has measured the attitude, the self-expressed attitudes of young people today, versus prior generations when they were the same age. And, you know, she has found that these kids, you know, they do dislike work for work's sake, more than previous generations. They do want work tailored to their interests and lifestyles more than previous generations. And so, I mean, those are facts and I think they do kind of paint a worrying picture in this recession.

Now, you know, whether this generation is actually going to turn out to be less entrepreneurial than prior generations, I don't know. I mean, that is what a lot of employers have said. I think that the difference - I dont want to say, you know, even if that's true, I doubt it will be an extremely dramatic difference. But these are things that I at least worry about.

CONAN: Here's an email we have from Kat(ph) from Akron, Portage Lakes, Ohio. This recession is a dominant part of our family. My 23-year-old son plant's closed and he's back home living with us. My husband's company laid him off, commercial construction. I'm working a part-time job at lower pay than in the years past but thankfully my other seasonal part-time job pays pretty well, begins again tomorrow. The food banks we used to give to are now giving to us, nearly once a month. We try not to go, but with two men in the house, food goes fast. My husband and I took out student loans and are working online towards our college degrees so we'll be more desirable hires when, if the economy finally picks up. Then, we will be employed but further in debt.

On a good note, thanks to COBRA we are able to pay 266 per month to keep our insurance, for which we were paying $770 a month when my husband was employed. My son, however, has no health care at all, nor the two of my daughters in their hourly jobs. Thanks very much for that email, Kat.

We're talking about the state of the economy, particularly the effects of long-term unemployment. And we're talking with Don Peck, deputy managing editor of The Atlantic, and Steve Greenhouse of The New York Times. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's go next to Patricia(ph). Patricia calling from Tulsa.

Ms. PATRICIA HILTON (Caller): Yes. I'm a 65-year-old lady from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Pat Hilton(ph)'s my name. I have three kids. My - and I was single through raising these three kids, most of my life. I raised them. But I got divorced years ago. But I've got a daughter that's 44 and she's an attorney and she went through OU and she did it mostly on her own. I'm so proud of her. But I don't worry much about her these days. She's doing quite well.

CONAN: Sadly, a lot of work for lawyers.

Ms. HILTON: I know. She happened to get into a position that's she's got a secure job. And I got a son that's 39 and he has a transmission business. And then, my youngest son does work a factory work, which is not - there's not much of here but it happens to be a type of factory work that has maintained for quite sometime. But he doesnt make very much in wages. He went to college for about a year and then he dropped out of college. Now he's seeing what it is and he thinks about going back to college, and I, you know, I have no idea. Sometimes I think he'd be better to go on to technical trade. He might have a better chance for getting a job there. But he hasn't decided, but he does want to go back to college.

But my two sons can't afford insurance and the insurance that they offer there where he works is too high. He doesnt make enough money to get the insurance. So both of my sons, I worry about them a lot and I worry about their future and what's ahead for them. And my oldest son who's 39, he did get divorce here, lately.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

PATRICIA: And so, you know, no one ever knows all the problems, but I do know a lot of it was - money problems that they had.

CONAN: Sure.

PATRICIA: And he also tried to get a loan in his business, a small business loan and could not get that. The banks told him that they were not doing it at this time. They might be doing it later on, whatever. But...

CONAN: I suspect we're not going to hold their breath for that, Patricia. We worry - all of us worry about our children all the time. It's just very difficult in these particular times when - particularly, in manufacturing sector, like you say, your son's working in...

PATRICIA: Yes.

CONAN: ...where that's so vulnerable to jobs being sent overseas and things like that. But we wish you and your family the best of luck. Thank you very much for the phone call.

PATRICIA: Yes. And I hope the health plan will be able to get through.

CONAN: Maybe we will find out about that on Thursday after that televised session. We'll be watching that with interest on Thursday.

PATRICIA: Well, I will be but I just feel like the Republicans are going to step on it as they seem to have stepped on everything so far.

CONAN: Well, maybe some Democrats will step on it too. You never know. Thanks very much for the call, Patricia. Bye-bye.

PATRICIA: All right. Thank you.

CONAN: I didn't mean to cut her off, but I wanted to give you guys a chance to talk about the corrosive effects, the societal, political effects. And Steve Greenhouse, you said that was one of the things that was concerning you too. At one point, you told us you fear for your country.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: Yes. Well, it's interesting hearing both Patricia and the emailer Kat, you know, say they have kids who don't have health insurance. And their problem comes to the fore all the more when we have a level of 10 percent joblessness. A lot of people without jobs, dont have health insurance. A lot of people with jobs dont have health insurance. And I think this shows why there's this big push to try to create universal health coverage.

And another big issue is - and Genevieve(ph), the caller from Orlando, raised this early on, you know, should my kid go into the job market right off high school now because my family needs extra money, or should my kid go to college for four years. And I, you know, when I go around the country, speaking to audiences about my book, I often say, stay in college, go to college, try to increase your marketable skills - either by getting a graduate degree or bachelor's degree or getting the skills needed to become a plumber or electrician. You know, raise your skills because this is a bad time in the nation's job market.

So kind of use this as an opportunity to step out of the job market and try to increase your value, so that when the economy, when the job market comes back, you'll be in better shape. And I remember there's this study by a Princeton economist saying that the value of a bachelor's degree means that you make more that 300, at least $300,000 more over the cost of your work career than if you just have a high school degree.

CONAN: Hmm. Yet, sitting out in college may take sometime if you read Don Peck's article in The Atlantic. You might want to sit out 'til, oh, 2014, 2016, or so. It might be quite a wait. In any case, Don Peck, thanks very much for being with us here in the studio today.

Mr. PECK: It is my pleasure.

CONAN: Don Peck's piece called, "How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America." It appears on the March edition of The Atlantic. And Steven Greenhouse, always good to have you with us.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: Nice to be here, Neal.

CONAN: Steven Greenhouse's book, he mentioned, the "Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker." He's the labor and workplace correspondent for The New York Times.

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