Part blog, part oral history, part research project.
How has the Great Recession affected your path beyond college? What is your story?

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Kadie has a master’s in public policy and recently founded the Single Parents’ Network. She is a young divorcee—kind and caring with a bright smile; she greets me with enthusiasm about this project. The morning we meet, her apartment is in a state of disarray. She was in the middle of moving her and her two sons’ things into one of the two bedrooms. To save on rent, she recently decided to take on a boarder.

My typical day is getting up in the morning, taking care of my kids, getting them off to school...I didn't have a job right after graduation, so there was down time for me to be looking for work, but I was also managing my kids—I‘m a single parent.

[After graduation] I was really proud of myself, like "Wow! I actually finished this!" It was a huge turning point in the way that I perceived myself and kind of like... Having my master's degree? That was a big, big deal. And so I thought that, of course I'd be able to get a job. You know?

Finding a job? I felt like, I...there were times that I told friends, “I went to school and I got indebted and forewent”--if that's the right way to say it—“working experience.” So, I didn't have that cuz I was in school and taking care of my kids. When I came out, my resume was "student." I remember saying, "I should've just gone to work at Wal-Mart and worked my way up and been into management." Because, where I'm at now, I have all of this debt...Yes, I have this degree, but there's really no value in the economy for it and not only am I out money but the time that I spent doesn't—isn't helping me. It's not helping me get a job—having been a student for the last three years.

I went back to school as a single mom—I had an 8 month old and a two year old, I didn't have a degree and so, I was thinking, I’m gonna get myself into school and then it'll be fine. I just looked at it as like, when I'm done, I'll be able to get a job and then I can live. At least just live on basic living expenses—I envisioned coming out and making a starting salary of $35,000, $40,000 and working up from there. Having opportunities to advance where I'd feel like I could safely provide for my family. And so, to not have the opportunity to do that... To be either overqualified—I've been on so many job interviews where I've been overqualified and undesirable for a number of reasons. And one is, you have more education than the person who is your supervisor. To feel like people don't want to bring someone on who in some way has more expertise built in or more potential to—I don’t know. So that was working against me and also working against me was my lack of experience because prior to going back to school I had part-time not really serious jobs, um, I had been more of a stay at home mom type for my sons' first three years. So I didn't really have a lot to offer...

I ask Kadie to describe some of her jobs after graduation.

I started out as just like a consultant, like a twenty hour work week and then I was hired on as staff part-time and then I was brought on full-time and then I was promoted. But all of this in the course of a year. And then...I lost that job.

[ I]t was great to have employment, to gain experience. Working in that environment and having some kind of small successes under my belt. Projects and feedback—that was great. But, I—my biggest issue is like, even though I was working and making a decent amount of money, I still couldn't even afford everything, because of my childcare expenses. My expenses still exceeded my income.

My situation is difficult because, at the same that I lost my job, I lost my car. I had some tickets that I was probably going to be able to handle paying, but I went out of town and I left my car with somebody who got six more tickets on it and I didn't know about it. They didn't tell me. Um...and then when I found out…She sighs deeply. You can't negotiate, you can't ask for a lower floor or fee. After a certain point, it's too late. So I couldn't manage that. It was growing, because I couldn't afford to pay it and the city started really cracking down on expired registration. My registration was expired and so my car was towed. And I was one payment away from it being free and clear. I've been paying for it for five years and because I couldn't come up with the two thousand dollars, I-I didn't have a car anymore. I've been without a car now for over a year. And, like I said, when I was working, I was making about $47,000, but I have two kids and one was in preschool, so that means you have to pay for them to be anywhere during the day and I had negotiated a really reduced rate for him and I was still not able to pay it every month and I still owe them two thousand dollars in back pay. Yeah. So then I lost my job, lost my car and really was like, why even try? I can't make it when I am working. Now I don't have a car, now how am I going to manage all of these logistics that were complicated before, on top of this?

I worked at a cafe for a bit and I worked cleaning a massage school. Making nine dollars an hour at the cafe and twelve dollars an hour at the massage school, vacuuming and dusting and cleaning bathrooms. And...while I was doing that I was just exhausted, too exhausted to really put much into my job search. And so I quit those jobs. I have some child support tax return helped me pay my rent for a few months.

I've had food industry jobs before, but not for a long time. I thought I was pretty tough, because I have two sons and they're really energetic. But I was so exhausted. I was so exhausted from working there. My first day I was like sick, I can't handle this...and they yell at you! And it's just another bad work environment, not getting paid enough to even...I mean. I was getting paid something. You could buy some groceries with it, but...She felt felt bad. Yeah. It felt bad.

I ask her what it was like to be waiting tables and cleaning bathrooms—with a master’s degree.

That just ruffles people's feathers. Because once they know you and they're getting to know you and they know you have all this education—the office manager [at the massage school] suddenly had this ego about how I was doing things. I was doing them wrong. I walked out on that job. He just kept nit-picking at stuff—the way I folded towels. Or I left without saying good-bye one day. He wasn't even really my supervisor, but he was kind of manning the place, because the boss was having a baby. So he was just complaining, complaining about how I was doing things. It didn't make any sense to just keep doing it. It didn't seem worth it to have it out with him. So I just walked away and I was like, "I can get a ten dollar an hour job somewhere else probably." She laughs.

So, I kind of was looking for work, but I had another project that I was really feeling a great need to act on and had some supportive people around me to develop it into a business plan. So I did. I kind of tested the water with that and didn't really know if it was going to be my thing. But I didn't have a job, so, I just decided to experiment with it. And continue job searching, but not really wholeheartedly at all.

I started a project for single parents—a business. Because for years…going to school, trying to get somewhere where I could support my family and my's always been the things in my personal life, having to do with my single parenthood that is like the stick in the spokes of the wheel. Every time you get going, something happens and it's all over. So I've had a lot of time to think about what I would need to feel able to...overcome those obstacles and what that would look like and you know, aware that I'm not the only person, actually, a lot of people are in that same situation. I put together an idea, a way to sell it and started selling memberships for the Single Parents’ Network. And providing some benefits, involving some local business owners in offering discounts to my members. And just having a place for people to convene, to meet face to face with other people who are having similar life circumstances without really having to go out of their way to create that for themselves—cuz who has time to do that? And it just generated a lot of interest and became, you know, "the project" but also like "the business" and has been a way for me to use the skill set that I went to school to get. So I feel satisfied with that. It's still in the getting traction—I mean it's been like 9 months.

[A]fter I saw the response [to the first Single Parents’ Network event]—that was probably one of the best moments of my life. All these people. All these people came to my event and I just posted it on Yahoo groups and Facebook and East Bay Loop and just free little places where you can make your post. And all these people came out of the woodwork to come to this event. And they were paying me money. She laughs. Wow!!! Oh my gosh!!! This is great. I was surprised. At the same time it didn't come together because anything was easy, it came together because a lot of things were really hard. And it's still a work in progress. I'm still gaining traction and not really financially stable, path is feeling more and more, not just feeling more and more, it is more and more a sustainable option for me to have this as my job. And other things have come out of this—I've gotten an offer to teach at a university as a guest lecturer several times during the semester and then also, some consulting gigs have come out of it for other nonprofits who want to raise their visibility and want to raise money...That is the only way I've really gotten job leads is this thing that I've created. I haven't gotten them in any other, from any other places—the cover letters, the resumes. I'm seeing a lot more progress and movement doing my own thing.

I think I just got to the point where I just didn't have it in me to bang my head up against that brick wall anymore. And that's what it felt like every time I tried to work for somebody else. It just felt like—something's going to come up—in the first 30 days of my probation, or 90 days—my kids are going to get sick probably about five times, I don't have three backups to...You have to have people you can count on—most people are flakes, they have their own commitments and priorities, their commitment is not your kid. So, how are you supposed to get a good reputation, be a reliable employee? There's just something always coming up and with the school system, a lot of times there's furloughs, days off. There's no childcare. It's just a battle I'm not going to win, that's how I feel. It's just—I’m not gonna win that one.

[And] a lot of people aren't really hiring. It's been difficult even finding jobs that I'd want to apply for...A lot of times, I'm just searching for something that looks palatable, which maybe sounds really...bougie, like "people go to work every day, Kadie, just suck it up," you know? But I just feel like my energy, because I have all of these other concerns, for me to even be able to focus and do a good job and for anyone to be happy with me I'm gonna need to kind of like what I'm doing, have some kind of affinity for it or something. Otherwise, it's just gonna add to my stress and I'm a parent and being a parent is my first thing. It feels like...I mean in the fundraising world, in the nonprofit world…every week the budget would be getting cut because of the different scandals, like Madoff and that was happening when I was working at the nonprofit. And funders were not giving as much. I had a year of experience in fundraising and it was so hard to be competitive because there were a lot of development jobs, I think was the feeling, but like, Stanford people, their whole development staff got cut, so people much more experienced were in the job market and were able to secure the jobs that I probably would've been totally qualified for but they were willing to take for less than they were worth, so I didn't have a chance to—I think that had a big impact. The big employers cutting people, making it harder for a recent grad to get a job.

I ask Kadie if she thinks the recession has impacted her career trajectory and lifestyle.

If I was employed I wouldn't be doing this other venture by myself and really have nothing for the last year and in a school where my kids are being bullied. We're not happy with where we're living and all of this...Our standard of living is definitely different. And if I could afford—if I had a secure income and all of this, like, a lot would be different for my family. And I would probably [be] treading along—be an executive director of a nonprofit organization that I feel is powerful and impacts society in a way that I want, in a way that resonates with me. That's probably what I saw myself doing. That's what I saw myself doing. So...I guess in a way, I'm kind of not that far from what I thought. So I feel like things are working out, but it's been like trudging, trudging, trudging, a lot of trudging. A lot of trudging. And a lot of hardship that I probably wouldn't be experiencing.

[Before] I could have never psychologically gotten to the point where "I'm gonna move my kids and me into one bedroom and we're gonna have a roommate." That would not have happened in a million years, because that just feels like, what are we? It's just too tight. It just doesn't feel like something I would've come to... Solutions that I wasn't or couldn't come to before are now—I'm now ok with them for some reason. While before that wasn't—I was just trying to like "Well maybe I'll get a job soon enough and it'll happen and we'll get on our feet."

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Janet graduated from a small, women’s liberal art college on the West Coast in Spring 2010 with a Masters in Public Policy. She has all the hipster accoutrements, from her short, funky hairstyle and retro clothes to where she lives in San Francisco, but none of the patronizing attitude. Currently, she is drafting a business plan for a friend’s startup. We meet at her Victorian in the Mission District and chat in her kitchen as sunlight streams in on an uncharacteristically clear and warm day.

I was just thinking fellowships right as I was [graduating]…I wanna do something with the expectation that I just graduated.

I did [an] internship with the XYZ Market and that lasted for three or four months. I did that internship full time...for the summer...which didn't really feel like summer.

It was paid. Yeah, it was a really good internship too...I mean, like, we were—we were everywhere. She rattles off a list of people and places: government officials, agencies, nonprofits and city departments. I mean, that was a good experience, cuz I was like, wow, there's a lot of jobs I don't ever want to do, this is like, some of these are terrible jobs and these people are so stressed out and they're rude to each other and they're just, you know, I'm pretty sure they're making good money, but, it comes with a price...Like I said, they were just all...old. There was not a single person who was under forty. And it was shocking to me. Cuz it was like, you get into these jobs and you are in them. Forever. It seems like that. So...and they have such attitude about them. Some of those people.

I initially applied [at XYZ Market] cuz I was hoping it had more to do with food policy and I had to beg to get into the food policy stuff with them, I had to be like "please take me to any meetings" and eventually they did start taking me to those but that wasn't the point of the internship, the point of the internship was to do this project management real estate development...[It] wasn't really related to my education, but there is a lot of policy involved when you're working with the city, so...They definitely crafted an internship that was policy-related, but the overall project really didn't feel like policy things, so..In the end, I did get a lot of food policy exposure and got more interested in it.

I ask Janet to describe a typical day now that her internship has ended.

I guess [my] typical day is that I wake up and I immediately get on my computer and I do start looking for work. I also check, all the blogs...and like, you know, go through everything that's bookmarked…and then I actually do practice my cello for quite some time, clean the house, walk the dog—sort of domestic stuff...Cook a big huge lunch and then I go hang out with friends and it's weird, cuz it's like, exhausting, cuz I'm not really like producing anything, but I'm also—I really feel like a housewife right now. Like I clean so much and then I leave for two hours and come back and it's all messy again…it's not my favorite cycle right now, but that's, that's pretty much it.

Right now I'm applying to a lot of different FDIC jobs. And I kind of—cuz I was also envisioning an MBA eventually, after, you know, working for a little bit. I don't like the way people's money is managed and I don't like how women's money is managed and so I kind of feel like maybe that should've been something that I investigated more, especially with the Recession going on...I feel like there's just a lot of irresponsible people dealing with our money and my money and that's sort of started to bother me, especially as I'm getting to the point where I’m like, oh, I don't have all the money in the world, I'm going to start running out, how can I invest this to make it grow.

I think I might've told you about this before, but, I applied for that food policy—there’s like a food policy job open and I applied for it and actually talked to them –and the deadline hadn't even hit when I was talking to them—and they said they already had 150 applicants. And so, they were like, “Hey, you better be competitive”—I was like, “AAAH! Way to rub it in.” So, I think that was really the slap in the face. I was like, “I better be good.” And it's hard to compete with people who have ten more years of experience than you do. Or even five more years. So… you're crossing fingers and you're hoping they like the sound of your name...

[I]t has made me extremely fierce and competitive and willing to like, harass people. Especially if I know they work someplace that I know I want to work. I have no fear in just straight up contacting them—like, “hey, what do you think about this?” You know, I think maybe in a better job market I wouldn't have to rely on that as much...I mean, everybody's talking about it all the time, how you have to be more fierce, you have to be more present too. You have to remind people that you actually exist and you're not just a piece of paper.

If anything, I'm totally milking the fact that I feel like I can do everything and I'm really glad that I studied public policy cuz I can totally play it and be like, “yeah I know stuff about technology and finance” even though I just don't have the background or expertise that someone with a P-H-D in a specific topic would have. I'm applying to health care jobs, to arts program things—everything. I think if the job market was better, I'd be like, “look, I'm only going to do food policy and that's it.” There's only like two jobs open in the whole nation for that, so...

I thought [the job market] was gonna be a little worse. I thought that the job market was going to be terrible and that there wasn't going to be anything, but the reality is there are lots of things open, they just have five thousand applicants and so you have to be able to create these beautiful cover letters and they take forever and everything. You have to change all the wording in your resumes, like everything has to be extremely perfect because otherwise it's not even worth your time, because you're just throwing things into this abyss of people. And so that's different, I guess.

Janet has been considering an MBA since she was still in graduate school. She thinks it would help her better understand finance and the nuances of the private sector. I asked her what would influence her to start applying for business school.

You know, if someone would give it to me for free, that would be like the best thing possible. If I could work for a company that would either subsidize, you know, further education or if I got some sort of funding, grants or something, but for me right now, I feel like I can't financially take on that without having a little backup. I don't really want to be living like a student for that much longer too. That's another big consideration. I don't want to have to feel like there's some things I shouldn't buy or can't buy, but not that I'm acting like that….She laughs.

I think that long term I’m gonna be more, like, “do my own thing.” Which is strange. Because you'd think I'd be scrambling to get in somewhere and get health insurance and be part of an organization. But I think I'm actually more willing to be like, “hey I could make money playing my cello for people” or like, maybe I will sit in the BART station with my cello. She laughs.

But I think I'm more open to doing small business stuff. Um, I'm also, I hate to say it, but willing to take less pay… willing to work for free if it's, like, some awesome position—which I thought I'd never do again.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Making Dreams Reality

So, after a summer of looking for the perfect job, or frankly any job, I have decided to pretend as if someone was paying me to do what I love. Simply, I love collecting stories, (i.e., qualitative research) answering questions and uncovering truths by seeking out and listening to people's experiences. My hero, Studs Terkel, a nonacademic, went out with a tape recorder a generation ago and collected stories about people and their jobs. The result of his work, a book called Working, also ended up being about a lot of other things: the Great Depression, the malaise felt by most working Americans and the gap between social classes. I don't see why I can't follow in Terkel's footsteps now.

It seems like almost every day for the past few years I hear the current recession being compared to the Great Depression. It sure feels like it. People are relearning how to grow, cook and preserve food for themselves. The numbers of the official unemployed only ever seem to grow or remain steady and the typical length of unemployment stretches to a year or more.

Some of my friends and I--most of us "recession grads"--aren't doing what we thought we would be doing after graduation. Some of us are still looking for both a dream job and anything to pay the bills. Others have settled for something unrelated to their discipline. Some have taken jobs with less responsibility and compensation. One or two have landed on their feet and are at their dream jobs. A few have created jobs for themselves--starting a nonprofit or a small business.

I want to collect these stories...So if you have or know anyone who has graduated from college or graduate school since fall 2007, please contact me at I will edit and post some of what I learn here and invite comments and analysis. Ultimately, if I get a large and diverse enough sample, I will code and analyze the transcripts and write my own analysis of the data.

Wish me luck!