blue island in a sea of red

hoop, no game (PDX, October 2007)

Last night I was out networking. (Funny, huh?) A new colleague had invited me to a meeting of the Portland Chapter of the IMA's Association of Accountants and Financial Professionals in Business, the last meeting before their summer break. (Apparently, there's less interest in summer networking. Maybe in summer, people are out networking on yachts.) Of course, attending such an event is not my normal Tuesday night, which for this school term would involve, oh, I don't know, staring at the computer screen some more at the kitchen/dining/office/prep table. Instead, I found myself in a small conference room, the Kamm Room to be exact, at the Multnomah Athletic Club. (FYI, family MAC membership is $10,200 via lottery, plus unspecified dues—'cause most people have 10 large lying around in a drawer to drop at a gym/social club—wait, that's the point of being exclusive, right? It keeps the riffraff out. Silly me.)

My hair up, I wore a (thrifted) blue linen dress, (thrifted) tan linen jacket, thin silver hoop earrings (half-off at Macy's), leopard-print heels (the ones from Nordstrom Rack that students joke about stealing off my feet on the way to my car), carried a Luisa Cevese Riedizioni bag (eBay), walked with head high, and thought money thoughts. The front-desk host sent me upstairs with a smile, so the whole blending-in thing must have worked well enough.

just like Berkeley (PDX, October 2007)

In my mind, I was there to spy on another professional tribe, a word person observing numbers people interact. I was handed several business cards but had no shiny paper trinket to offer in exchange because my $10 business-card order was placed online earlier that day and will take two weeks to be shipped from the Netherlands (or rather, from China) one week from Canada. Who knew one needed business cards to be taken seriously? The closest thing my working-class family had to business cards were checks with which we paid electric and grocery bills—name, address, and phone number printed right there on the check—see? Oh, it's not the same thing? What's a social club again? That's like church, right, where the Kentucky-Fried-Chicken-franchise-owner Mormon bishop hands out KFC jobs if asked?

Lesson 1: Marx was right—the class system is real. And the class secrets and rules of the clubs are intended to keep the money in the family.

church steeple (PDX, October 2007)

Don't worry—the accountant tribe was friendly and my head was in no danger of being cut open and my brains eaten. Instead, they served me complimentary salad and fruit tart. The numbers person eating with knife and fork next to me will be headed this month to Hawaii on a free trip from his company, a perk received every year because he crunches numbers in the wholesale-travel field. (At in-service a couple weeks ago, my name was drawn for a free XL school-logo-ed T-shirt. Go team! That's as good as a trip to Hawaii, right?)

Pearl sign (October 2007)

The keynote speaker stood up towards the end of the meal, during coffee, an economist working for the State of Oregon, Christian Kaylor, Workforce Analyst. While eating my fruit tartlet, I took notes like a good anthropologist. (Yum, that tartlet tasted so much creamier than monkey brains.) I should have picked up his handout, but he kept saying everything was on the Web site. He presented slides of charts and graphs and bullet lists showing recent trends in the Portland economy—hard data he left for others, "sociologists," to speculate about regarding the why's. He worked the crowd with little jokes, mild self-deprecation. I wondered if he'd taught Economics 101 in grad school because he seemed so comfortable up there presenting in his flat-front khakis and button-up shirt and glasses. (Rule #1 of teaching: Never let 'em see you sweat.) He said he'd just bought a house.

condo with crane (PDX, October 2007)

According to Kaylor, in Portland, "If you don't have a bachelor's degree, you don't work" because 42% of Portland-area residents are college grads, 48% of those who live in Portland proper. The unemployment rate for my age bracket (25-44) is 11.6%. Job growth is equal to population growth at 1%, meaning there's really no job growth going on at all. Politicians are battling over semantics. Kaylor himself seemed particularly puzzled (he said he "understands about 80% of it") by his discovery that since about 2005, virtually all the growth in the city of Portland has been from childless people with bachelor's degrees ages 25-44, and they all want to live close-in—PDX northwest, northeast, inner southeast, but not, definitely not, no way José, in the suburbs. (See previous post.)

PDX street (October 2007)

Kaylor was essentially describing the ex and me, as if he'd broken into our condo and searched our files, read our bank statements, and interviewed our friends on the sly—except my ex has an associate's and I have a master's, only the ex makes bushels more money in computer engineering while I'm in English teaching, but the degrees cancel each other out to a bachelor's each, so there you go, the profile. Kaylor also said those "nonnatives" who've been coming to Portland are systematic about it, also considering other (let's use the words: liberal/green) places around the country "with co-ops" like the state of Vermont, Austin, Texas, and Brooklyn, New York.

What Kaylor kept dancing around by holding onto his numbers is that choosing a city is like picking a mate. One desires similar interests or life will be dull or full of strife. If one partner likes Nascar and beer, while the other prefers wine and hiking, then hang on for the ride. If any sociologist wants to start breaking down Kaylor's data with qualitative interviews, e-mail me. I fit the profile. However, things get a little complicated when one considers that I was born in California, raised in southern Oregon, lived abroad, lived for nine years in California as an adult, moved to Portland at the end of 2007 (i.e., was priced out of the Bay Area), but have ancestors who've lived in Oregon since the mid-1800's, including one of the first Willamette Valley hops growers, and I have a little Native-American blood in me. How exactly should we define "native," Mr. Kaylor?

park fence (PDX, October 2007)

In any case, Kaylor said "10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 each day," and "retirees are the fuzzy area" in the shrinking labor pool because many are having to retire earlier than they'd like "for health reasons," while many others see no clear retirement date ahead, having lost so much in their 401K's, and still others will have only social security to retire on, nothing more. He also said the median wage in Portland is $18/hour, and he joked with the crowd of accountants, saying he sure "hoped everybody in the room was making more than $18 an hour." Gasp, how awful. Ha! Wink, wink.

street art (PDX, October 2007)

Lesson 2: The Numbers Tribe has more money than the Word Tribe. In fact, the Numbers Tribe lives in a different world altogether, though I'm certain no attendee last night was a member of the 99%.

Kaylor also stated that since baby-boomer teachers have begun retiring and will continue to retire, education is a future growth field in Oregon, despite recent cutbacks in education funding. The WorkSource site offers PDF "Education Pays!" posters, proclaiming that college graduates earn far more and have less unemployment in a lifetime compared to high-school graduates.

But what Kaylor didn't talk about, what few talk about, is that education doesn't pay for most teachers themselves—not in the U.S., not now, probably not ever. Teachers are on average the least-paid group around, considering their amounts of education: in Oregon, at least, required master's degrees on top of standard bachelor's degrees, and at the college level, often doctoral degrees atop all that, plus continuing education requirements for K-12 teachers the length of their careers. Where's the comparative analysis of the amount of education a person in various fields has compared to salary? Teachers, I suspect, will sit at the bottom of the pay scale per education level. Talk to some teachers. I don't know any wealthy ones, unless they have a spouse in a different field. Teachers have the most formal education of any group I know, other than MBA-managers, therapists/counselors, lawyers, and doctors. But teachers make less than the rest, usually far less. Fair? Those who can't do, teach? We get what we deserve? We aren't in the right networks? We weren't born in the right class? We don't need to get paid because we love our work so much we'd do it for free?

road closed (PDX, October 2007)

Lesson 3: Statistical averages inevitably contain exceptions. Sometimes even a master's or doctoral degree is near-worthless in an economy.

Portland Baroque Orchestra banner (October 2007)

What's my advice to youth, a teacher speaking her truth from experience? Never ever earn a degree, let alone two, studying words or art or music. Redline those programs from schools. They don't pay. Numbers pay. Numbers are all that matter here in America. No one told me. My parents never went to college. So instead of numbers, when I was young and choosing a major, I blindly picked English, my native language, the study of words and metaphors that feed me, that assure me I'm not alone here, spinning on this blue island in black space. Others are like me. We have a club. It's called literature, and it's open to everyone.


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