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."

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