What a "Jobless" Recovery Means for Young Workers


I’m glad to hear on the news that the economy is doing better. But, frankly, my own household doesn’t feel it. My under-30 partner and I don’t own any stocks, so we’re not benefiting from Wall Street’s recovery.  We’re both still jobless and searching for full-time work—in my case for four months now and, in his case, for much longer. We’re almost on the verge of leaving the country. At least in a less developed nation, the cost of living would be lower and we might be able to put our past job experience, bachelor degrees, and foreign language skills to better use.

In California, where unemployment reached a 70-year high in August, I have more advantages than many jobseekers. I am a U.S. citizen, able to speak both English and Spanish fluently. I have a computer with Internet access, so I can spend all day searching Craigslist and checking emails from various job search listserves. Yet, I have applied, unsuccessfully, for nearly fifty jobs so far—not even reaching the interview stage in most of them. I have filled out applications and sent in my resume to become a community organizer, after-school teacher, administrative assistant, personal assistant, baker’s assistant, nanny, women’s shelter desk clerk, coffee shop cashier/barista, and dog walker.

I thought I was a shoo-in to be the baker’s assistant, overqualified even. “I’m great at chopping fruits and vegetables,” I thought to myself when I saw the job description. But, when I arrived at the bakery and picked up a job questionnaire, I knew I would go home empty-handed. The first question was: “How long have you been working in the food industry?”

Since I finished college two years ago, I haven’t been working in any industry for very long. My longest stretch of post-graduate employment was 11-months spent in a very decent-paying job as a union representative in the Bay Area, before I was laid off, along with many others, due to an internal political dispute. (The repeated appearance of the word “union” on my resume could explain why I haven’t heard back from some employers.)

Like most people who have a job, I complained about mine when I had one — mainly because it was stressful and the hours were long.  But now that I have time to do all the things I couldn’t while working–like lounge around in cafes or sample hot new restaurants (activities that still-employed San Franciscans always seem to be enjoying) — I don’t have the desire or the money. And it’s flat-out depressing to be such a non-contributor to society and the economy.

I am thankful, of course, for the unemployment check I receive every other week. And the extra $25 per week tacked on to it as part of the stimulus package. And the COBRA subsidy, for my health coverage, that was part of the same legislation passed last winter. But jobless benefits don’t make me feel useful and they wont last forever; already, many other people around the country have begun to exhaust theirs.

My partner –- who comes from El Salvador — has a degree in industrial engineering, but he can’t find work either and isn’t eligible for UI benefits. His experience mirrors that of many other recent immigrants, with far less education. Working as a day laborer in painting and construction, he’s been left unpaid numerous times by unscrupulous contractors. With help from Upwardly Global, an organization that assists immigrants with professional backgrounds, he’s learned the U.S. way of white-collar job searching, how we write cover letters and resumes, what we say at job interviews, how we network. Even so, he still can’t find steady employment.

So, if this “jobless recovery” continues, we’re thinking of going back to his country. Amazingly, it seems there are far more opportunities for a do-gooder like me, in schools or community development organizations in poor, tiny El Salvador than here in the US. The federal government’s economic stimulus initiatives don’t seem to be trickling down fast enough for me and millions of other unemployed workers, young and old.  We, the unemployed, want to contribute our time, our skills, our ingenuity, and our sweat. WPA-style, we could be rebuilding parks, painting murals, tutoring kids, or doing lots of other socially useful things.

But, instead, Time magazine explained it in a recent cover story: “why double-digit unemployment may be here to stay—and how to live with it.” I’ve lived with it long enough—and that’s why I may not be staying.

ALEXANDRA EARLY lives in the San Francisco Bay area and is a community-labor activist. This article was originally posted and distributed, in different form, by the Progressive Media Project. She can be reached at: earlyave@gmail.com.


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