Here is an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education on the job prospects for humanities PhDs at the moment. It’s called “the big lie about the life of the mind”.
To give you a flavour of the pieces, some quotes from the former…
What almost no prospective graduate students can understand is the extent to which doctoral education in the humanities socializes idealistic, naïve, and psychologically vulnerable people into a profession with a very clear set of values. It teaches them that life outside of academe means failure, which explains the large numbers of graduates who labor for decades as adjuncts, just so they can stay on the periphery of academe.
Just to be clear: There is work for humanities doctorates (though perhaps not as many as are currently being produced), but there are fewer and fewer real jobs because of conscious policy decisions by colleges and universities. As a result, the handful of real jobs that remain are being pursued by thousands of qualified people — so many that the minority of candidates who get tenure-track positions might as well be considered the winners of a lottery.
Universities (even those with enormous endowments) have historically taken advantage of recessions to bring austerity to teaching. There will be hiring freezes and early retirements. Rather than replacements, more adjuncts will be hired, and more graduate students will be recruited, eventually flooding the market with even more fully qualified teacher-scholars who will work for almost nothing. When the recession ends, the hiring freezes will become permanent, since departments will have demonstrated that they can function with fewer tenured faculty members.
…and from the latter…
It is striking how often the word “love” is used by defenders of the current job system in academe; they would never use the word in their serious work. There is a double-consciousness about graduate school in the humanities. We often pretend that it is a continuation of the undergraduate, liberal-arts experience when it is really — like law school and medical school — professional training for one kind of position: a research professor at a university, and, failing that, a teacher at a liberal-arts college.
All of which comes back to the point: What good is professional training for a job that you are not likely to get, after a decade of discipline, debt, and deferred opportunity?
…and from the first paper I linked to above…
Graduate school may be about the “disinterested pursuit of learning” for some privileged people. But for most of us, graduate school in the humanities is about the implicit promise of the life of a middle-class professional, about being respected, about not hating your job and wasting your life. That dream is long gone in academe for almost everyone entering it now.