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

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Jennifer Howard wrote me after reading a comment I posted online, I think the email she sent is a suitable introduction:

Hi Melissa,

I came across your blog from your comments on the May 18th NY Times article. I just started reading it and I love it! I think that its a fantastic idea and I really respect that you are doing it on your own volition. I got my BA in History and Political Science from SUNY in 2005. I knew that I wouldn't get a job with a liberal arts degree from a state school so I enrolled in the MPA program there (sort of by accident). I interned with the Department of State and New York State during grad school and finished my MPA in Fall 2007. I was extremely fortunate to land a job with New York State in the beginning of 2008. It's not the most interesting job in the world, but the pay is very decent and the benefits are excellent. The only drawback is the 3 hour round trip commute - I moved back in with my parents last year at 27 so that I could stop treading water and start saving. I know that this experience is a little different from the other ones in your blog but I would be more than happy to speak to you if you would like. Thank you very much for your time and keep up the excellent work!!

Enjoy your weekend,

Jennifer Howard

Nine months before I graduated I was really panicking because I didn't have a job lined up and I was interning for New York State, but I knew that I didn't want to stay in Albany. My boss—she was amazing, she helped me so much—her husband was big in the Department of XX * for New York. So he was actually giving my resume out to different agencies in New York State. When I graduated and still didn't have a job, my boss asked me what I was gonna do and I was like, oh, I'll go back to waitressing or substitute teaching and she said no, you can stay here until you get a job. I did that for about a month and then in January 2008, I got a call to interview for my current job

I work for New York State, it's the Office of the ZZ* at MTI, which is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, I'm the senior auditor there. I didn't apply for this job but was actually on another job interview and I got a call from this woman and she asked me to come in for an interview at the Office of the ZZ, so I was kind of just blind-sided. She laughs. I was really excited about the idea of working for New York State, but I didn't really know what an auditor was.

I interviewed at the job on January 7th, which is my birthday and I started working on February 4th of 2008. I was a staff auditor and I kind of didn't really know about auditing and the person I was working with didn't teach me anything and so I wasn't that happy with my job. I felt like I wasn't doing anything, but actually my boss apologized that I had to work with this person and assigned me to work with other people. And I actually started to really get into my job. I worked with a variety of people and I felt like I was really accomplishing something.

At the same time I felt like a lot of people at my job were kind of disgruntled, literally haven't gotten raises in 3 years, and they felt like things were really stagnant. So I kind of felt like I wasn't going to go anywhere, but I really liked my job, so I didn't know what to do. I actually started looking for other jobs, but then someone said, well, why don't you just talk to your boss?

I went into her office, this was in the fall of last year and I told her that I really liked the job and I could see myself doing it for a long time, but I was concerned that it wasn't going anywhere, that things never really change at the ZZ and I told her that I wanted to take on more responsibility. I felt like it was time. I had been there three years. She said that she wanted to promote me, but it was hard with the finances with the State. So I didn't really expect anything else to come out of it. But then, actually in January, I got promoted. I was so happy I was crying.

I'm a performance auditor. When there's a complaint or when we find out something is going wrong within one of—you’re from out west, so I’ll just tell you a little bit about MTI. They run all the subways, trains, buses—all the transportation in New York City and the suburbs. We go out and we analyze the problems, we find out what's wrong, we make recommendations, we bring it to the agency and hopefully they'll act on it. At first, I was just kind of writing memos, I was doing data analysis, but I wasn't really getting into the big picture. When I began working with more competent people, I really began to see how things worked together. I would get an idea of what was going on and I'd ask my own questions. It just got exciting because I could see what we were accomplishing.

I asked Jennifer how she thinks the recession has impacted her and her future.

They're talking of consolidating our office into the bigger ZZ Office of State and they're only keeping 10% of the workforce. So there's been rumors about that. I don't see a lot of promotions within my agency. Things have been really stale since I've been there. I've been very lucky that I got promoted. I don't see anyone hiring. And I don't know if that's ever going to change because it's—I don't really think the economy is going to get much better.

I hope my pension's around when I retire. She laughs.

A big part of why I want[ed] to work in government is for the benefits and for the retirement and right now there's a lot going on in New York about being able to fund the pension and they're trying to change it for people that are coming into the State now.

I feel like I'm one of the lucky few. I feel very fortunate. I don't think the economy really affected me. My friends—they're all super bright, great people. They all went to college and it's just, I'm the only one with my master's, it seems like a lot of my friends are waitresses or they work in retail.

I think it has a lot to do with luck. Because I had people that really helped me out and if I didn't I don't know where I'd be. I do know that I worked really hard, I'm a good worker, I'm easy to get along with, but at the same time, I know that there are lots of people like me. I went to school with a lot of smart people and I just feel like I—It's not that I didn't work for it but if I didn't have the people backing me that did, if I didn't have my internship and my boss there helping me out, her and her husband, I don't know where I'd be. So that was lucky, just, you know, working for them, meeting them.

*Department name withheld to protect Jennifer’s anonymity.

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