The running joke of the Creative Writing degree, and quite a few other interesting but economically-stunted degrees, is that we are doomed to say “May I take your order please?” for the rest of our career, as if that is some sort of curse or bad thing to happen. The curse isn’t that we work retail or food service or anything of the sort. These are actually enjoyable places to work, full of creative people who are fun to be around, with products that we care about. The curse is that we are doomed to live in poverty.
But, that curse that is repeated towards us creative writing majors, is not seen as a symptom of a broken economy. Don’t do anything to actually make the low-wage positions anything but a prison of poverty. Just warn people that they are going to get trapped there, and curse them and their life choices and their calling.
It doesn’t really matter what degree plan you’re talking about, either, if it is not business, finance, nursing, pre-med, etc. If everyone’s a lawyer, no one’s emptying the trash. changing the lightbulbs, and fixing cars. If everyone’s a business-owner, who works at their business? There is nothing wrong with wanting a simple, humble life, working quietly and going home. Treating these nice folks as “takers” or “ignorant” or whatnot is a trend in public political discourse that goes beyond disgusting. If everyone’s following the teachings of Rand, we live in a lawless hellhole where even basic services must be acquired by tooth and claw and bone. If we actually follow the teachings of social justice, not everyone needs to own a business, or climb the ranks of middle-management to the top, and the economics of everything isn’t more important than the humanity of everything.
This is why art degrees, creative degrees, and all that stuff that is considered “fluff” by the gristmill men, really matter. Education isn’t about getting a job. It’s about getting a life, finding a place, learning the things that take time and expertise to learn, and pursuing what is interesting. The impoverished hellhole of drudgery following such degrees in the public discourse is not a mark against the education, but against the society such education services.
If we raise the minimum wage, countless artists, authors, musicians, dancers, etc. will directly benefit from the increase. Nobody spends more money on books than writers. Nobody attends more theatre than aspiring actors. Nobody spends more of their precious income on art than artists. Raising the minimum wage raises everyone in the arts, from the struggling writer slinging coffee without a sale to their name, to the billionaire screenwriter that has an even larger audience for their work as more screenwriters have money to spend on movies. Every self-interested creative has a stake in the increase of our field. Raise up the bottom of us, and everyone lifts up.
To be an artist or creative in this country is to accumulate letters after one’s name and join the economy from a position of educational authority. (Nevermind that academia, wherein I also currently work, is looking more and more like a shell game with the way student loans work, and administrative salaries work, and poets prop up themselves upon aspiring poets.)
Increase the income of everyone interested in the arts, particularly those at the bottom, and we increase everyone in the arts, and readjust our social values such that saying “May I take your order please?” is not a curse, but a quiet, happy life, wherein one can go home to do their real, meaningful work, without burning everything out onto the altar of art.
It’s such a simple plan. And, it would help every single one of us who live the life of the creative professional. Every… Single… One… Of… Us.