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Winning the Future: Can Americans Put Their Passions to Work?

Curtis Valentine – Humanitarian aid professional, community organizer,

and political consultant

Posted: January 27, 2011 04:00 PM

For many Americans, the most appropriate remedy for reducing the impact of the recession is a college degree. And even though the unemployment rate for college-educated Americans reached its all time high of 5.1% in December 2010, it remains half of the national average. The U.S. Census suggests that over their lifetime Americans who matriculate through college earn, on average, twice as much as those with only a high school diploma. For all intents and purpose a college degree is the greatest determinant for a financially stable life. But does a college degree guarantee you will have a job that matches your passion?

The argument for promoting a more impassioned workforce is not only moral, but rational and economical. A Gallup poll published in Perspectives on Psychological Science found that where employees have positive perceptions of their jobs, their organizations benefit from higher retention, increased customer loyalty, and improved financial outcomes. In a time when America is trying to recover from a recession and compete on a global stage it’s important that its businesses operate in the most efficient and cost effective way.

While the increase of unemployed Americans turning to community colleges to train for new careers can be seen as a silver lining of the recession, others have been pushed out of jobs they’ve loved. The recession has only exacerbated the amount of Americans who report unhappiness with their job. According to a survey by the Conference Board Research Group only 45 % of Americans are satisfied with their jobs — the lowest level ever recorded by the group in more than 22 years.

The source of unhappiness for many Americans included how disinterested they were with their work with only 51 % of Americans finding their jobs interesting. And though interest in something doesn’t equal passion, there remains a strong relationship between the two. Job insecurity, the inability of incomes to keep up with inflation, and the effect the soaring cost of health insurance has had on take home pay contribute to American’s unhappiness with their jobs. The most troubling data to emerge from the study was how dissatisfied and dispassionate our young adults are about their jobs. Of those surveyed, the Conference Board reported that those under 25 had the highest level of dissatisfaction (64%) with their job than any other age group. The recession has had the most debilitating affect on young adults as they face fewer job opportunities and lower wages in jobs they don’t like. How can we assure the next generation can find a job that meets their passions upon graduation?

Though many Americans working in jobs they love got there by first asking themselves “what would I do with my time if money was not an object,” the majority have given up on their ambition of making a living in their passion. Still millions of Americans exist in a world totally unaware of where their passions lie. In his State of the Union address President Obama declared to Americans that “the future is ours to win” if we “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.” But can America out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world” with a generation of Americans unhappy and, in-turn, less productive in their work?

In his previous speech memorializing the victims of the Tucson shooting, President Obama invoked the spirit of Christina Taylor Green, its youngest victim. President Obama used Christina to symbolize the millions of children who rely on us to create a world where their passion can be put to work. In his speech, President Obama declared that he wanted America to be as good as [Christina] imagined. Unfortunately the recession has caused many school districts to cut both Art and Music programs when they need them most. In response, community institutions like churches and local NGOs have filled gaps in education funding ensuring the next John Mayer or John Legend has a home for their passions. To some the government’s inability to reward or incentivize public schools and colleges to offer a variety of programs is another attack on the middle class. Sadly, storied institutions like Howard University in Washington D.C. have decided to scale back their degree programs in response to low enrollment. In a country as good as our children imagine, shouldn’t the education system be increasing the diversity of its degree programs to assure our children’s passions have a home?

Winning the future may not only begin with our children asking themselves what they want to be when they grow up, but also making sure America can actually work to make it so. In America children are born everyday with dreams of putting their love of outer space, pets, and plants to work as astronauts, veterinarians, and botanists. With data suggesting Americans are more productive in jobs they’re passionate about, it may be time America makes this a priority if it’s serious about winning the future. President Obama was right when we said, “Americans do big things,” but the next big idea and next big innovation will only come from an impassioned generation of Americans ready to compete with the world.

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