As a graduate of the University of Michigan's Class of 2009, I knew to expect some turbulence in my job search. I was offered a picture of the economic troubles ahead through Michigan's economic downturn which began long before the so-called Great Recession swept the rest of the country, and its unemployment rates, which have remained some of the highest.
It's for this reason that I was especially fortunate to have been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to the United Kingdom. Not only did I think this experience would make my resume hard to turn away, but I figured that the time abroad would allow me to delay efforts to kick start a career until the economy improved. No such luck. As I spent a year immersed in intense academic research at the University of Cambridge, employment prospects at home only turned from bad to worse. When I got back, I joined ranks with friends who had been seeking work for months without success.
Now I look back with some consternation on the words of advice broadcasted across massive telescreens for an endless sea of graduation caps to nod along to in Michigan's Big House stadium. Founder of the multi-billion dollar enterprise Google and easily one of the University's most successful alumni, it was easy for Larry Page to affirm that the dust of recession would only birth new opportunity as he delivered to us what was meant to be an inspiring commencement address. I remember him saying that we must all feel like worms coming out to lavish in a refreshing spring rain -- only to find ourselves fried on the sidewalk instead. Sitting on those metal bleachers, I wondered if anyone really expected the graduates of 2009 to go forth and develop the novel and life-changing ventures that might provide the tens of thousands of dollars in student loans we would soon have to pay back.
The uncertain times left us completely dumbfounded, and no small sum of the four thousand seniors I graduated with struggled to answer the fateful question: "So what's next?"
Some of my classmates have hunkered down for the next decade or so in doctorate programs, and everyone I know who studied business has landed a position on Wall Street, finding their educational investments saved by the banking bailout. Most of my friends, however, are now collecting food stamps to keep "socially responsible" but financially unviable jobs with Americorps or City Year. A whole slew of others are struggling to get enough hours at restaurants to make rent despite top-tier educations.
For a long time, people I knew kept referring to this article from The New York Times Magazine about how the 20s are the new teens -- a developmental stage during which one struggles to assert independence by painting over lavender walls in childhood bedrooms instead of looking into buying a house or even leasing a place. Although the article made us feel that our troubles were characteristic of our generation, we're still not proud of the fact that we have reached none of the milestones our parents' generation had as they breezed through their 20s.
While some young people have taken advantage of these tough times -- and the misfortune of others -- by purchasing foreclosed houses or buying cars they couldn't have dreamed of owning otherwise, I can name at three times as many incredibly qualified individuals who are now immersed in cut-throat competitions for unpaid internships -- which I once thought to be the terrain only of undergrads.
Although I have a graduate degree from what has been rated the world's best university, I was recently rejected from such a position, and given the dismal consolation that my application had been one out of 700. With such an endless supply of the young, eager and unemployed, employers are free to pick the perfect candidate to update spreadsheets, copy papers, organize mailings, and schedule meetings without offering any compensation beyond a letter of recommendation -- which they will probably have lowly interns "draft" on their own behalf.
Despite the fact that I'm more concerned about some sort of employment assurance than unemployment insurance, I was shocked that Congress even considered allowing unemployment benefits to expire. I find it incredibly discouraging that the government has completely given up on those who have lost the most during these last few years, refusing even paltry checks of a couple hundred dollars a month to those who may have once boasted six-figure salaries.
Amid the debate on such policies, there's been much talk about how it only gets harder to land a job the longer someone has been out of work. What I want to know how such figures relate to those who have not yet been able to get jobs at all.
For now, I am very grateful to say that I have a much-coveted paid internship, but when this ends in a few months, I might just try to post my resume here -- in the off chance that someone out there is hiring.