Teaching our three-day intensive course in RDBMS and SQL development at MIT made me reflect on the wisdom of the government using tax dollars to pay people for 99 weeks (two years!) to stay home and play Xbox or watch TV while waiting for employers to return their calls. The standard 26 weeks of unemployment makes sense to me. People paid for the insurance with wage deductions and it might take 26 weeks to move to a new city or state, work one’s network of friends and relatives, etc. But the subsequent 1.5 years don’t make sense to me given what a human ought to be able to learn in that period of time.
In three days we took people, admittedly many of them very bright, from zero knowledge of RDBMS to basic competency in SQL programming. They were also able to modify, recompile, and test Android applications that pull information from a Web-based RDBMS. Many of the students had very limited programming experience and many were not MIT-affiliated, so it is not as though we took MIT computer nerds and made them slightly more nerdy.
Let’s try to come up a list of things that a person, effectively taught, could do in 99 weeks. Here’s a start:
- earn most or all of a bachelor’s degree if done at an efficient school such as University of Phoenix where courses are self-paced and/or in session all year rather than the lazy half-the-year calendar of a legacy university
- earn an MBA (1 year at a modern school; 2 years at a legacy school)
- become a competent video editor in Final Cut or Adobe Premiere (two weeks?)
- become a competent photo editor in Adobe Photoshop or The Gimp (two weeks?)
- develop reasonably fluency in a foreign language, even without an instructor, using tools such as RosettaStone (one year, possibly including a trip to Guatemala or China or wherever)
- start and finish an aviation maintenance degree and FAA certification (typically about 1.5 years)
- learn heavy equipment operation
- complete almost any trade school, e.g., plumbing or electrician
- go from zero computer knowledge to being a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer or a Cisco network engineer
It seems strange to pay someone for 99 weeks and hope that somehow the employers that didn’t want them when they were fresh out of work would somehow want them after two years of idleness.
What about the following modifications to the system:
- for people who live in states with an unemployment rate higher than average (see http://www.bls.gov/web/laus/laumstrk.htm for the rates), offer a lump sum at the end of 12 weeks to assist the person in moving to a state with a lower-than-average rate
- for people who’ve been unemployed for 12 weeks, simply pay for a year of education in programs with proven records of skills-building (I guess you measure by how many finished and were able to get jobs)
I have heard that there are various government training subsidies available, but none seem to be as well funded as the river of money that is going into the 99-weeks-of-Xbox system.
What’s wrong with my thinking? Is the 99-weeks-of-Xbox system that Congress created more sensible than it seems?