When I was growing up, my father was in constant fear of losing his job. He worked as a salesman in the clothing industry in New York for a small firm that bought cloth from textile mills and sold it to manufacturers of men’s suits, and firms such as his closed frequently. Unemployment was a recurrent topic at dinners in my family, not only possible unemployment for my dad, but also the Great Depression and the suffering faced by my parents’ siblings and friends during those years. The topic intrigued me. How could we make sure that everyone who wanted to work had a job? How did people who wanted jobs get matched (or fail to get matched) with people who needed workers?
When I learned in high school about the School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) at Cornell University, their interdisciplinary curriculum seemed to have been designed with precisely my questions in mind. But my parents were opposed to my applying to Cornell. They wanted me to continue to live at home and attend Brooklyn College, tuition-free and just down the street. My father had not finished college at all and my mother had completed City College of New York over seven years of night school, while she worked as a secretary during the day. To them, the fact that I could go to college full time and not have to work was pure luxury. What more could I possibly want?