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

Friday, February 18, 2011


Valerie lives in a lovely Southern resort town, but speaks with only the minutest trace of an accent. Her resume boasts both an A.A. in criminal justice and a Bachelor’s in Psychology. She has a reputation among her co-workers as being tough as nails, as she said laughingly, “They call me Ginger at work, because they say I have no soul.” In her defense, Valerie’s current job matches neither her talent nor her temperament, which arguably, might do damage to anybody’s soul.

When I first started college I pictured myself doing exactly what I'm doing now. I always thought I wanted to do transitional living. I do case management for a nonprofit transitional living program. I work with homeless, runaway and at-risk youth, ages 16 to 21, helping them with getting jobs and housing and government assistance. Doing life skills. Kind of teaching them to be independent adults. I did a year of Americorps, which is a government program, you work a year in a high needs area. And that was with an outreach center which is part of the organization that I work for now. About six months into that, they offered me my current position. So I was doing full-time Americorps and part-time case management.

It's not at all what I thought it was gonna be.

I don't have the right degree for it first of all, you don't get paid a lot, you don't get benefits, it''s basically being a mom to a whole bunch of kids that don't really want to be in the program. It's just not for me. Some days we're really busy and some days the kids don't want anything to do with me. It just kind of depends. I've got mostly pregnant girls in the program. And so I'm taking them to doctor's appointments, taking them up to apply for Medicaid, apply for food stamps, apply for WIC. Kind of just meeting with them. Sometimes we go out and go to coffee and I listen to their problems, which is hard, because they want to tell you about their problems, but then they don't really want to fix any of the problems. I'm not good at just listening and being like, "It's gonna be ok." If you want to tell me what's wrong, then I'm going to tell you what you need to do to fix it.

I don't think I want to work with kids. She laughs. I work with them now and some of them are great, some of them—I just don't like it. I don't know how to explain why I don't. Some of the kids are great, but the majority of them, I just dread. Just not my personality.

In my job I don't get any benefits. I knew going in that we didn't have any benefits, but what I didn't realize was that—apparently for years—maybe once or twice a year, my boss bring[s] up getting benefits, to get everybody to get kind of excited. And it never happens. And she eventually did it while I was [there], “Would anybody be interested if we were to get health insurance?” And I was like, hell yeah I would be. And then after talking to some of the other employees, they were like, no no no, she says that every year and it never happens. I didn't realize how important benefits were 'cause I'd been under my parents’ plan for so long and it just never really occurred to me. So when I lost them, I'd never not had health insurance. I didn't really realize it was such a big deal until I got sick and had to pay a hundred dollars out of pocket to go to the doctor.

[Also], there's absolutely no where for me to move up. There's only two positions above mine and they're not going to leave and it's also grant funded, so there's no possibility of a raise. We're on a five year grant cycle and the grant’s allotted this much money for my salary and so for the next five years, that's how much I can get paid. And there's not enough room in the budget for me to ever get more. So I've been looking at more corporate jobs, office administration jobs…She laughs. Which I did before and I could easily do again.

I feel like I wasted a lot of time and money. I've got a lot of student loans to be kind of taking a step backwards to something that I did when I first started doing college. When I first started college, I was in an admin position at a law firm. That's something I did while I was in college and now I've spent all of this time and all of this money to do the same thing I was doing without spending all of that time and all of that money. My current job is frustrating because the case manager that they just hired has no degree and no experience, so even the current job I'm doing can be done by somebody that has no degree and no experience. I spent fifty thousand dollars to get this degree to get this job that somebody that didn't go to college, that didn't volunteer for Americorps or do an internship got the same job.

I feel bad complaining, because I do have a job. But then again, I thought, “I've spent all this time and this money and finally I've graduated and I'm not going to have to struggle anymore.” I don't have a savings account. It's kind of paycheck to paycheck. She laughs. I've graduated and absolutely nothing's changed, except for now I'm a little broker because I have to pay student loans back.

I've always worked full time. I worked most of the time even in high school, I've always really like going to work. She laughs. And I've never had problems getting jobs. In my head, in July, as soon as I was done [with school], I was gonna get another job. I was like, I'll start applying, I'll have a new job by August. I just never—I mean I've never had a problem getting jobs. I don't think I've ever really really interviewed for a job even. Like Americorps, I had a friend that did it. So she introduced me. And I got it immediately. I didn't interview for my current position because I was just kind of promoted.

I started looking [for another job] before I graduated. I started out strong. Sending out lots of resumes all over the country. And it's kind of tapered off. She laughs. You know, I haven't gotten any responses. And so I still look. I try to send out at least one a day. Some of the websites are easier, if I already—like Boeing, already has all of my applications, so all I have to do is get on and click apply, apply, apply to whatever comes up. But then some of the other ones you have to have not only a resume and a cover letter, but you have to fill out an online application, which is basically just retyping your resume and that takes at least an hour. It's just really frustrating that you spend all of this time doing cover letters and resumes and then you go to apply for the job and it's just basically retyping everything that's right there on your resume, only to never get called. You know it's hard. You don't want to be pissed off but at the same time, you're like, I've just wasted an hour on something that resulted in not even an interview.

When I started looking I was like, “Oh, well, there's tons of jobs out there, I don't know what they're talking about.” I start applying and I'm not getting any response and then I talked to a friend—I just applied for this job at the company she works for and she's like, “Oh yeah, we had 160 people apply for that, you might have a shot.” I was like, holy crap. She's like, “Oh that's nothing, we had six thousand apply for this other job.” That's when I kind of realized that it's not that there aren't jobs, it's just that there's so many people applying for jobs out there.

Psychology's kind of a broad degree. Nursing, you go to school and you're a nurse. You can't go to school four years for psychology and be a psychologist. There's not really a lot of jobs for a four year psychology degree. If I could pay my student loans, then I would go do my master’s degree.

There's a master’s program not far from here, but the only thing is, if I did the master’s program, I could only work part-time. There's no way I could work part-time and pay all of my bills. But if I could save up enough money to pay my student loans for those two years, then I would go do a master’s degree. And then I also worry, because even if I do do a master’s degree, is it really going to get me anywhere further? You know, an associate’s degree didn't get me anywhere, a bachelor's degree didn't get me anywhere, so am I really gonna take the chance and go do another two years of school and take out all these extra student loans for something that may or may not get me a job?


  1. Hey Melissa,
    I just thought I'd drop you a note and give you a brief update: I finally got a new job! I'd doing sophomore academic advising for the Department of Communication and Journalism at Coastal Carolina University. It's only 30 hours a week so it's a pay decrease but I'm really liking it so far. I also got a nomination for a Peace Corps position in South America so I'm working on completing all the medical tests for that and will hopefully leave in May or June. I'm so glad you're still doing the blog and I love checking in and seeing new stories!