An American Dream Deferred

This post is part of a series exploring the workers I’ve met who are on the front lines of the fracing boom in Pennsylvania. You can find links to the other articles on the overview page.

I wish someone told me you can’t just follow your dream

With gelled hair that was parted down the middle, Danny was the oldest student in the class. He was also the most melancholic. Danny didn’t intend to join the world of unconventionals. Instead, he had a goal of pursuing a career in political science.

Danny went to college and majored in Poli Sci at a university near Harrisburg, PA. Like many students, he took out a substantial amount of student debt to pay for school only to learn upon graduation that he could not find a job in his field when he graduated just prior to the Great Recession. Like many others in a similar situation, he found work where he could. In Danny’s case, that was in the world of fracing.

His first job required little of the skills that he went to college, and into debt, for. Danny spent his days “watching water levels in tanks.” His description of the job seemed so elementary, that it surprised me it hadn’t been automated, yet. He outwardly disdained the working conditions and told me that he disliked wearing a hard hat and ear plugs when he envisioned himself doing work in an office somewhere. Danny was visibly demoralized; he remembers his hopeful, younger self who could accomplish anything he wanted to…he could follow his dream.

But his job in fracing became more than a job he disliked; it became an opportunity. After working for a couple years in the field, he went back to school, but this time to earn an associates degree in oil and gas production. He chose this path because his current employer would pay for his education, and because in this area of PA, oil and gas became a possible career path.

It remains to be seen whether or not Danny succeeds in his new career in the oil and gas field, but it’s certainly better than the alternative of being unemployed with accumulating student loans.

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