What Wall Street and Teach For America Have in Common

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Mike: Jeremy and Samson seemed so miserable and I was rooting for them to quit and do something else. But something seemed to be holding them back—they didn’t like the idea of leaving the well-paid jobs they hated for an uncertain future. Which is funny to me, because being worried about an uncertain future is what nearly every college senior on the verge of graduating worries about. Their recruitment into Wall Street sort of allowed them to delay this.

Kevin: And I think in some ways that Wall Street has functioned as a delay mechanism. You don’t have to figure out what you want to be. And I think that one of the smartest things that Teach for America did was make itself a two-year commitment just like the banks, because people who are seniors in college want some kind of certainty. They want to know that they’re not going to be unemployed. These are people who’ve connected all the right dots their entire lives—they are very Type A. And they want to move from institution to institution without a break in the middle and so Teach For America saw what Wall Street was doing, I think—I don’t have any intel—but I think they probably looked at what banks and consulting firms were doing and saying, “two years is about the right amount of time. We don’t have to pay them a ton, but if we promise them that it’ll look good on their resume, that they’ll be able to do whatever they want afterwards, it won’t close off any doors and it’ll give them structure and stability.” And you can see it now: One in every six Ivy League seniors applies to Teach for America—it’s insane. And that’s probably the best proof that it’s not all about the money for a lot of college students, because they’re willing to work for a little bit of money teaching in the Mississippi Delta if it means that they’ll be able to put off some big decisions for a few years.

In The Billfold, my very long conversation with Kevin Roose about Young Money, Roose’s book about young Wall Street workers recruited straight out of college that came out earlier this week. You can read excerpts of the book at NPR, and an adapted chapter about Wall Street plutocrats dressing up in drag and cracking jokes at the 99 percent at New York magazine.

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Film Still from Wall Street 2

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Mike is the managing editor at Longreads, on the editorial team at WordPress.com, and is the editor of The Billfold. He has written for Bloomberg Businessweek, Pacific Standard, the Chicago Tribune, and other publications.
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