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Unemployment and Making the High School Basketball Team

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Getting a job these days is a lot like making the local high school basketball team. The coach has 12 slots to fill and 36 students who have worked on their dribbling and passing skills, their defense, free throws and jump shots enough that they all hope to make the team. Otherwise they would not be trying out. But with 3 candidates for every position, it’s mathematically inevitable that two thirds of the students will walk away empty handed and disappointed. That’s just the way it is in high school.

Of course there are other teams in the school that these kids can try out for. There’s the football team, the baseball team, the volleyball team, the track and field or the cross country team. And if they’re not athletes they can try out for the debate team, the chess club, the Thespians, the chorus, etc. etc. etc. But like the basketball team, these teams or clubs can accept only a limited number of students, so there are inevitably plenty of students who will walk away empty handed and disappointed.

An Insufficient Number of Teams
In the end there are an insufficient number of teams to accommodate all the students who, for their own self respect and dignity, want (and desperately need) to become valued members of a team somewhere, somehow. But when they’re rejected by the coach the message that comes through is “You don’t bring enough value to this team. I value what others bring to the table more that I value what you bring to the table. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Every high school in the USA has a plethora of students who have received the rejection message loud and clear.*

The modern term is “losers.” We systematically create them every day, every week, all year long. The result is that every high school in the USA has a plethora of students who say to themselves, “Apparently I’m not good enough to make the team so why try? It’s humiliating to try and get rejected over and over again. If I stop trying at least I have an excuse for failing. It’s because I didn’t try.”

Consequences of the “Why Try Lesson”
But the “why try lesson,” that’s so effectively taught in our schools has even more dire consequences when these same students get beyond school and begin the task of figuring out what they’re going to do with their lives. How they’re going to earn a living, maintain a relationship, raise their own kids, etc.

Mathematically speaking, in today’s economy there are three candidates for every job opening posted…just like the basketball team. When someone tries out for a job, odds are two out of three they will fail. The odds are exactly the same a making the high school basketball team. You can work hard, respect your elders, go to church, salute the flag, live life according to the rules, and think positively, but the odds of landing that job are still stacked against you. That’s just the way it is in 21st century America.

As the demand for workers is continually reduced by technology, and as more and more non-unionized workers compete against each other for fewer and fewer jobs, wages fall lower and lower while jobs go to the candidate who’s willing to do the work for the least amount of money, in a systematic race to the bottom. When the alternative is unemployment, homelessness, and starvation, the result is economic slavery for those hanging onto the bottom rung of the economic ladder. They have no dignity, no self respect, and no self value, because our system has so effectively convinced them that they are expendable, replaceable, and worthless. All hail the high school basketball team.

*One modern option for these kids is the local street gang. Can you really blame them for being interested in a team that actually wants them as a member? I certainly can’t.



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