The ESL Industry is a Reflection of a Flawed US Economy

If an economist wanted to understand the current dynamics of the US economy, that person could simply make abstractions by analyzing the ESL industry. Teaching English as a foreign language has become big business in the United States as foreign students have poured into the country in recent years in the hopes reaching a level of English proficiency that will enable them to attend an American University or improve their job prospects back home.
Then there are the growing groups of immigrant populations that require ESL training in ethnic  enclaves scattered throughout the large American cities. As a result, heaps of for-profit and non-profits entities have benefited greatly. For-profits like Kaplan, Education First and Intrax thrive off an affluent global middle class while non-profits, such as community colleges and charitable organizations continue to live off state and federal funding to improve the English proficiency of immigrant populations. As a result, thousands of jobs have been created teaching English as a foreign language just within the US alone.

More jobs means a better economy……right?  In this case…NO. The vast majority of these jobs are mostly ‘part-time’ teaching positions. However, part-time is a term used loosely as many who are deemed ‘part-time’ are in reality working  nearly full-time hours for one school and moonlighting at another institute.
Some argue that part-time work is just the nature of the ESL industry in the United States. However, try telling that to the thousands of teachers who are working for the larger schools, such as Kaplan, Education First, Devry and so on. These are teachers who go home at the end of the day exhausted and demoralized by the lack of pay and benefits. The same can be said for instructors adjuncting at community colleges, universities and for-profit colleges and technical schools.

While it is true that the ESL industry has always operated under these conditions, it hasn’t been until recent years that the bulk of the US economy is beginning to resemble the ESL industry. THAT IS SCARY! It’s estimated that at least 75 % and upwards to 85% of ‘new jobs’ created since 2012 have been part-time.
Well, these are only low-wage jobs in the restaurant and service industry, RIGHT? WRONG! While it is true that at least half of new part-time jobs are in the service and retail industries, there are a significant amount of them being dished out to individuals with advanced degrees. Many of these same individuals are well-equipped, hard-working, capable of full-time work and deserving of job security with benefits. However, there simply are not enough full-time jobs available for the increasing number of job seekers with advanced degrees, let alone those with a four-year degree.

On top of that, job competition is becoming intense even for part-time positions. There are countless job seekers who have spent a year or so searching for full-time work only to  settle for the best ‘part-time’ position available. An even stronger indicator of the state of the US economy is the fact that even part-time ESL teaching positions and other administrative roles have become significantly competitive in the past few years.  As a result, large ESL companies like Kaplan and Education First, which have escaped from offering full-time positions in the past are having an even easier time doing so these days.

Why are so many ‘new jobs’ only part-time? Mainstream economist, the media and advocates of big industry will contend that a sluggish economy and Obamacare simply are not allowing companies to hire a great deal of full-time workers.
However, many companies continue to grow their profit margins despite of a ‘slugggish’ econonmy. The same is certainly true for companies within the ESL industry. Many argue that  large firms are only taking advantage of the ‘sluggish’ economy argument. Moreover, the transition to a ‘part-time’ based economy  is further enabling corporations to be even more selective in filling full-time positions. As a result, there are thousands of educated Americans, many with post-graduate degrees, who are working two part-time jobs in the hopes that they will eventually  land a full-time position. In addition to the ‘sluggish’ economy argument, many big business advocates argue that Obamacare prevents companies from hiring full-time. Obamacare requires any business with 50 or more employees to provide health insurance to any full-time worker. Pro-market advocates convey that it is simply too expensive for companies to pay health benefits.

How did we quickly become a part-time based economy? First, lets look at the two arguments  put  forth by big business proponents who blame  a ‘sluggish’ economy and Obamacare. What the media fails to mention is that both of these arguments are based on greed. Large American firms aren’t hiring full-time workers simply because they are only concerned with the  ‘bottom line’ and maintain a position of having no responsiblity towards society . Moreover, the idea that Obamacare is to blame  is also a weak one and again based on greed. A company that has 50 or more employees is  not a ‘mom and pop’ operation. The owners and upper management  of such a company would rather blame their problems on Obamacare  than provide reasonable pay and benefits for their workers. Moreover, upper management knows they can get away with not hiring full-time and there is no incentive for them to do so other than a moral one. However, we all know that morality has little place in the modern economy.

It is easy to point the finger at big business, but much of the blame also needs to be directed towards the workers themselves. This is particularly true of individuals under forty with university degrees.
There is no hiding the fact that the current and up and coming educated workforce in the United States is entirely too self-centered. The vast majority of the younger workforce seem to be caught up in a myopic rat race that encourages selfishness at a precarious time when unity is needed. This is definitely the case in the ESL industry and this perspective certainly exists in the majority of industries. If I had five dollars for each time I heard a person my age or younger scoff at the idea of unionization, striking or speaking out against big business. The typical younger worker would choose to undermine his or her colleague in the hopes of one day becoming part of the management team over forming alliances with his or her peers. This sentiment is especially evident among the educated, younger workforce. Ironically, many of these same individuals also claim to be ‘progressive.’ But how can one purport to be ‘progressive’ if he or she doesn’t even support non-management?

There is no doubt that something is seriously flawed with an economy in which 75 % or more of the ‘new jobs’ created are part-time. The ESL industry  has operated under this flawed system for years. Unfortunately, it seems that the rest of the economy is in the process of following the same path.


About JT 63 Articles
JT taught English for four years in Japan. He also has extensive experience teaching ESL in the United States. JT has also traveled throughout Asia and South America. He began JimmyESL in 2014 as a way to provide honest information for those interested in teaching English abroad. These days, he spends most of his time building Wordpress sites, blogging and teaching others the nuances of digital marketing.