How the nation’s worst — and UConn’s favorite — industries benefit from desperation 

Students and prospective employers gathered in Gampel Pavilion on March 28, 2023 for UConn’s annual Career Fair. The event was held from 11 to 3 P.M. and open to all UConn students to help form connections with companies for both internship and full time job opportunities.

On Sept. 19 and 20, hundreds of students at the University of Connecticut will flock to the 2023 Fall Career Fair, getting an early chance to interface with employers and shop around for the companies with which they could spend their post-undergraduate days. However, while economic insecurity is one of the foremost problems of the United States, students seeking high-paying jobs to reinforce their own safety net need to know at whose expense their future career may come — and the gruesome social implications of dressing to the nines for UConn’s preferred slate of war profiteers, labor abusers and poverty extortionists.  

For many, attending the Career Fair assuages one of the core anxieties of college students these days: turning their sizable investments on education into jobs that both engage their knowledge and skills and rake in a decent salary. As trends in the costs of living and the financial yield of a college degree each diverge in undesirable directions, getting a head start on one’s career seems like a no-brainer. 

Salaries for bachelor’s degrees have declined by more than 7% as of Feb. 2023 — with master’s degree-holders not doing much better— due to a combination of inflation and shifting demand for technical skills in the job market. To make matters worse, housing affordability and inflation are also slowly worsening. The upshot of these congealing factors is an economic situation in which the average U.S. household makes at least $10,000 less than they need to get by “comfortably,” which sparks headlines further fomenting genuine concerns about insecurity. For college students, the solution to this problem appears to be networking and accumulating skills to outcompete other workers in their field and get hired to a high-paying position as soon as the graduation cap leaves their heads. There is nothing more scary, the culture says, than joining the ranks of service and retail workers after college and working a job that barely meets one’s basic needs, let alone repaying huge sums of student debt. 

Ironically, the parties that best understand the stress of the modern economy are corporations — particularly ones that benefit from a fresh supply of college graduates to low-intensity, high-skill labor such as engineering, accounting and programming. More importantly, these are companies that lead some of the most harmful industries in the country are responsible for reproducing economic insecurity nationally and profiting from war and instability globally. The top employers of UConn students include defense contractors such as Raytheon Technologies, Electric Boat and Lockheed Martin, as well as private healthcare or insurance companies like CVS Health, Aetna, Cigna and Hartford Healthcare. Because they believe they can’t afford to have moral considerations about where they work, college graduates are a dream come true for firms that are directly responsible for reproducing the heinous effects of American capitalism.  

It’s critical to illustrate exactly why these companies are so harmful. For one, supplying the U.S. military with weapons of war for a handsome profit necessarily makes companies like Raytheon, Lockheed and General Dynamics champions of mass death. Halliburton, the weapons manufacturer run by former Vice President Dick Cheney, and the companies mentioned above all made billions of dollars off Cheney’s, former President George W. Bush’s and former defense secretary Colin Powell’s genocidal war in Iraq. The aforementioned defense contractors are three of five companies that won nearly 25-33% of the Pentagon’s multi-billion-dollar contracts in recent years, according to a paper by the Brown University Watson Institute of International & Public Affairs. These weapons have rained down on Yemeni civilians and buttressed the Israeli state’s wars of aggression with its neighbors and domestic war on Palestinians.  

Raytheon CEO Greg Hayes has also commented on how the war in Ukraine demonstrates that there is room for the U.S. to enhance its already overwhelming military capabilities. Having been awarded billions in Pentagon contracts to support Ukraine against the Russian invasion, it is clear that U.S. defense contractors have no incentive to support an end to the war as long as the profits keep flowing. However, in order for the war profiteers to continue operating, they need their own revolving army of desperate and politically apathetic entry-level engineers and analysts, supplied faithfully by institutions like UConn. 

Although the private healthcare industry’s destructive capacity is far less dramatic than the military industrial complex, it is no less egregious that human capital from UConn is being funneled into a field that extracts profit from a service that is considered a human right in most of the industrialized world. These companies are not without their scandals. Hartford Healthcare has a horrible record of underpaying healthcare workers and attempting to shut down critical units like the maternity ward of Windham Hospital because of “financial viability.” For Cigna’s part, the health insurance goliath was alleged in a class-action lawsuit of arbitrarily rejecting over 300,000 insurance claims due to the use of an algorithm. These systematic issues are the consequences of a system that seeks to commodify human health and sickness, and the desperation of students is critical to maintaining and preserving it.  

The solution to this problem is layered. First, President Biden and the Democratic Party must use all the tools at their disposal to cancel student loan debt and work to mitigate the inordinately high cost of higher education in the United States. The cost of instituting free public college nationwide is dwarfed by yearly increases in the military budget — which may be precisely why there is a bipartisan consensus on stuffing attempts to publicly subsidize education. This may give graduates the breathing room to explore career options and actually consider the ethical ramifications of taking entry-level positions in extremely harmful industries.  

Second, individual student interns and graduates need to recognize their own agency and ability to contribute to global harm. As harsh as it sounds, economic insecurity does not absolve an individual in helping companies reap huge benefits from war and imperialism. Young people must realize that the stigma around being a service or retail worker stems from the capitalist class’ antagonism towards organized labor, which is a powerful tool for fighting for an economic system oriented around meeting people’s needs instead of boosting returns on investment. While the latter is partially reductive, as relatively high wages in the U.S. are a direct consequence of its position in global imperialism, it needs to be said; the tools to undermining these exploitive and damaging industries are readily available should we have the political will to use them, abandoning the false notion that upward mobility is all that matters in the process. 

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