Entries Tagged as 'jobs'

“I Couldn’t Even Get a Job at Starbucks”

March 1st, 2011 at 5:57 pm 31 Comments

With new employment numbers due Friday, March 4th, we at FrumForum decided that it was time to listen to the voices of the young as they face the challenges of this economic crisis. Over the next days, in an exclusive series, we will be featuring a number of their first-person stories in this space. If their experience is yours, we welcome you to join the conversation at Editor@FrumForum.com.

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One of the shocks of applying to the harsh post-recession job market has been learning that not even low-skilled, entry level jobs are easy to get. I am a University of Chicago graduate, with a background in Middle East and Arabic studies — including a year spent abroad furthering my education in Syria. When I graduated in 2008, I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to go about looking for jobs — but I didn’t expect that I would not even be able to get a job at a Starbucks.

I returned from Syria in the fall of 2009, dreamily expecting that with such good experience, I would have my pick of jobs when I returned to my hometown in Washington state. Because of my background in Arabic, I started out by applying to government jobs at the FBI, the NSA, and so on. All the applications were online and I never spoke to anyone by phone. Time passed — no replies. With no way of contacting the employer in some sort of human form, I was unable to speak to someone who could explain why I wasn’t getting replies. I did want to improve my application and learn what I should be doing differently.

I eventually started applying to local jobs. I filed an application with the local library and sought out the managers at multiple Starbucks locations.  After again not receiving any reply, I called the manager at one Starbucks outlet and asked why I hadn’t got the job? It turned out they had transferred in workers from another Starbucks location. So despite advertising that it was hiring, the company was actually only shifting people about.

Finally, nearly a year later, a Catholic elementary school took me on as a part-time teaching assistant. This has been a great experience for me, and after the Christmas break I was brought in on a more regular basis to help with managing the classes.

But it’s still only part-time work. For me, a good week is being able to work 20 hours. I still want to get a full-time job with a fixed salary. So I am now thinking about grad school, or taking night classes to get teacher certification.

I am my own biggest critic, and with hindsight I can see things that perhaps I should have done differently. I know there are applications I wish I’d filled out sooner. Part of what might have held me back was the idea that ‘I’m a U of C grad, I shouldn’t have to be a waitress or work at Borders.”  Maybe I should have swallowed my pride.

I know that the elementary school took a chance with me. I’m just grateful that I was able to find work that I believe I can turn into a career — even if it’s one I wasn’t expecting.

You can contact Margaret Robinson at: mrobinson212@gmail.com.


“What Is It About Twentysomethings?”

March 1st, 2011 at 2:31 pm 16 Comments

With new employment numbers due Friday, March 4th, we at FrumForum decided that it was time to listen to the voices of the young as they face the challenges of this economic crisis. Over the next days, in an exclusive series, we will be featuring a number of their first-person stories in this space. If their experience is yours, we welcome you to join the conversation at Editor@FrumForum.com.

Click here for David Frum’s introduction to this series.


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Why do adolescent college graduates — particularly men — “not grow up” is the latest riddle among feature writers. Kay Hymowitz takes aim at the laziness of twentysomething men in her new book Manning Up. In an excerpt published in The Wall Street Journal, she writes:  “Today, most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance.” Her proof? Comedienne Julie Klausner (and a “female reviewer” of Klausner’s recent dating book), and Judd Apatow movies. (In another column, her research depended upon crude comments on Internet forums to prove that men are stuck in “pre-adulthood.”) And in the New York Times magazine, Robin Marantz Henig devoted almost 7,800 words– pouring over cultural and even neurobehavioral explanations — to answering the question “What Is It About 20-Somethings?”

So what is it about twentysomethings? As “scientific” as neurobiology is, and as funny as Judd Apatow’s movies are, the real answer for this problem lies in the economic crisis–an explanation that both writers only peripherally mention. The unemployment rate for those 20 to 24 years old is right now at 15.2 percent.  For college graduates under 25, it was 8 percent last spring–over double the rate in 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Moreover, nearly half of all college graduates are employed in jobs that don’t require a college degree, such as store clerks or office assistants, according to Andrew Sum, Northeastern University Professor of Economics.

Count me in this club. I graduated in 2009 from Claremont McKenna College, the first spring after the financial crisis. Sometime in the fall, the college’s Career Services — ranked #2 by the Princeton Review — sent out a defensive mass e-mail to our class assuring us that everything was basically normal. However, competition for jobs, and by ripple effect, fellowships and graduate school was extremely stiff — multiple rejection e-mails referred to a “record number of applicants” who applied. By our graduation, which seemed somber on an otherwise perfect Southern California day, only about half of our class had jobs.

I took one unpaid internship after college but, like a lot of college graduates, eventually decided to move back home. Home, of course, has obvious appeals of comfort. But it also sends you back into a quasi-adolescent relationship with your parents, except now my idea of conversation was watching The Charlie Rose Show or listening to Fresh Air, and my idea of a party was watching Jersey Shore.

After applying to more and more jobs in a variety of fields from tech to journalism to store clerking, I got a break in April as a low-paid intern at The Washington Independent, writing on the midterm elections for its companion site, The American Independent. Fortunately–and unlike so many media outlets these days–the Independent seemed like a thriving journalistic enterprise. With just a few reporters, we covered subjects from unemployment to Guantanamo to immigration that slipped through the cracks. After my three months ended, I got promoted to reporter (a paid position), and things were looking up (I moved out of my parents house in April). After the elections, I broke a story (beating the liberal blogs and newspapers) about Rep.-elect Allen West hiring Joyce Kaufman, an incendiary right-wing talk radio show host, as his Chief of Staff. I took a long weekend off to go home, and suddenly Kaufman resigned.

The next week, without any warning, the staff received an e-mail informing us that TWI was shutting down and we would be laid off. The bosses let me stick around until the end of January. In the meantime, I did what is standard advice when facing unemployment: network, apply for jobs, reach out to potential employers. And I still am doing that now.

The Hymowitzian conception of man might think that my daily schedule goes like this: Wake up at 11, eat cold pizza for breakfast, play Xbox for three hours, eat leftover Chinese food for lunch, watch Comedy Central, go onto some Internet site and make misogynistic comments, check Facebook, and repeat the next day.

I do have a weekday routine to stay focused–but it’s not particularly exciting. It involves writing e-mails, preparing nutritious meals for myself, exercising, job-searching, and indeed, watching Comedy Central’s clips of last night’s Stewart and Colbert.

Ironically, youth unemployment is so ubiquitous that you have to force yourself to notice it. Three current and past roommates in the house in which I live in Washington, D.C. have spent some time unemployed. And it’s not just undergraduates–many graduate students with advanced degrees I know have spent months unemployed or aren’t working at jobs in their field.

Those who may differ with my economics thesis might point out that the problem of college graduate unemployment, underemployment, and aimlessness is perennial among twentysomethings. We’ve all seen the movie The Graduate, with Dustin Hoffman playing the Ivy League college graduate who doesn’t know his future–and who receives the unsolicited advice from a family friend to get into “plastics.” Al Pacino in Serpico asks his pretty NYU girlfriend about her Village friends at a party: “How come all your friends are on their way to bein’ someone else?”

To some degree it’s true. But the problem is most certainly aggravated by the recession and it’s just not as easy to “chill out” for a couple of years in your twenties. Today college degrees are more commonplace, and yet students are taking on more and more debt to attain them. Tuition and student debt have risen far faster than inflation.  It’s far from unusual for a student to owe tens of thousands, or with a graduate degree, hundreds of thousands of dollars. And even with housing prices down, it’s still hard to live cheaply in a big city. Rents in big cities are no longer say $40 a month–what my father paid during the late 1960s as a student in New York City for a Lower East Side walkup.

College graduate unemployment has real costs. Yale Economist Lisa Kahn found that college graduates who entered the labor force during recession years made 10 percent less than those who entered it during boom years. And there is, of course, lost productivity, idle labor, and a greater worker supply pushing down wages. Then there are those who delay entering the workforce by going to graduate school right out of college–many of whom, without real world experience, may not be able to work in the field and yet still owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

As for the policy solutions to this problem, the Obama Administration has done well around the margins. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, I have generous New York State employee health insurance until age 26. Overall, however, legislators have done little, save for some marginally helpful tax breaks and a stimulus that only made the floor of the recession slightly less bad.

For now, a weak job market is a given for young people. And we’re trying to hustle through it, without any expectation — in line with Congressional Budget Office projections — that it will get better. Contrary to the theory of responsibility-free “pre-adulthood” twentysomethings, college graduates now have to be more adult-like at an earlier age. We have to be more proactive to find jobs in a competitive market; we have to juggle loans and credit-card payments; and we have to come up with more in rent each month–or plot a way to leave our parents’ house. While I’d love to go on a “trip to Vegas,” as a Hymowitz-approved quote describing the interests of young men put it, my first priority is getting a job.

Luke Johnson formerly wrote for The Washington Independent. He is looking for a job. No phone calls please, but he can be reached at Lukegjohnson@gmail.com


A Jobs Summit that Works

David Frum November 30th, 2009 at 10:16 am 47 Comments

Good for Newt for calling his own.

Here are some things we should be talking about:

1) A 5-year extension of the Bush tax cuts. This is no time to be raising taxes. While the ideology of the governing party rules out making the Bush tax cuts permanent, economics tells us that short extensions do no good at all. Shoving off the expiration date from 2011 to 2013 will make no difference. Five years at least. There will be time in the next administration to think through the revenue reforms we need to achieve budget balance in future: consumption taxes or energy taxes, not taxes on saving, work and investment.

2) Military re-equipment. Our John Guardiano has been arguing here that re-equipping the armed forces after a decade of exhausting war can provide stimulus to some of the economy’s high technology sectors, badly battered by the collapse in business investment. We’re hearing a lot of 1930s analogies these days. Consider this one: the FDR bill that had the most dramatic impact on employment was his Naval bill of 1938, a then-astounding $1 billion for new ships and naval aircraft. That money helped pull the economy out of the “second depression” of 1937. A military capital budget could help sustain both employment and necessary rearmament over the difficult months ahead.

3) An exchange rate deal. The dollar has declined against the yen and euro, as it needs to do. Through complex central bank operations, China has thus far managed to push its currency down in tandem with the dollar. This is good news for Chinese exporters: their goods stay cheap in American stores. But for everybody else in China, the currency decline implies inflation ahead: Unlike the recession-struggling U.S., China is growing and super-abundant liquidity translates into asset bubbles and soaring consumer prices. In its own interest, China needs to revalue its currency sooner or later. Trade inducements from the U.S. might help nudge that decision forward to “sooner.”

4) An immigration slowdown. The job growth of the past year heavily disproportionately benefited immigrant rather than native-born labor, as economist Ed Rubinstein has shown.  Federal stimulus dollars are headed toward immigrant-heavy sectors: construction above all. Given the especially appalling unemployment numbers among young black males, we need to be acting decisively to ensure that U.S. taxpayer dollars provide relief to U.S. nationals.

5) Avoid direct federal job creation. These programs become dead ends: see especially the sorry history of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act. Created in 1973 to expand a program created in the Kennedy administration (!) to help workers displaced by automation (!!), CETA rapidly devolved into a permanent holding tank for lightly committed workers.

6) TARP 2. I know, I know: everybody hates TARP. But 14 months after the Lehman crash, credit remains ultra-tight, in great measure because the books of banks and other lending institutions are clogged with bad debts. Inability to produce a plan to clear these bad debts remains failure 1 of the Obama administration domestic policy … a better TARP remains today as it has always been a prerequisite for rapid recovery. Otherwise we are in a Japan-like situation of hoping that general economic improvement will turn bad assets into good. That can happen too, but it takes time – and nobody should wish to dawdle.